Saturday, March 6, 2010

FILMMAKER-SUBJECT BOND: violations and beyond

The most extreme reactions to any Maysles Brothers film were accusations  that the brothers had violated the filmmaker-subject bond. Along with his brother David, Muffie Meyers, Ellen Hovde and Susan Froemke, Albert codirected GREY GARDENS (1975), a film about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's eccentric cousins. The film's main characters, mother and daughter Edit Bouvier Beale and Edith B. Beale Jr., are former socialites who lived cheerfully  in an undomesticated house in the conservative town of East Hampton. While GREY GARDENS has a bit of a cult following, it had also engendered the filmmaker's harshest criticism. 

In fact, for some of the criticism of Grey Garden was so intense as to be newsworthy. 

Many critics and viewers are uncomfortable watching scene in Grey Garden were the isolated women appear mentally ill. Edit Beagles and "Little Edie" as Albert calls her, have visions o grandeur, dancing about in near-naked performances, flirting with the camera (and with the Maysles Brothers) while raccoons and other 'un-housebroken pets' run throughout the house. Albert recognised the Beales as eccentric, but he believes they were willing - one might even say eager - participants in the film, and that the experience of making it benefited them. 

Except for tabloids shamefully perused in supermarket checkout lines, America was not yet used to seeing the rich, famous and powerful get publicly embarrassed in excruciating detail at every level of the media

Today, when reality show contestants are willing sleeping in coffins, eating bowls full of worms, and enduring liposuction procedures before a national television audience, the reaction to GREY GARDEN seems excessive. 


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