Elizabeth Entenman
March 07, 2015 3:02 pm

This week, the world mourned the loss of a revolutionary filmmaker, when Albert Maysles died on Thursday at age 88.  Along with his brother David, Maysles was responsible for ground-breaking cinema verité documentaries like Gimme Shelter and the 1975 iconic classic, Grey Gardens, which celebrates its 40th anniversary by returning to theaters this month.

“Making a film isn’t finding the answer to a question; it’s trying to capture life as it is,” Maysles once explained, and that’s exactly what Gardens‘ exploration of the tattered lives of the two Edith Bouvier Beales did so enigmatically and unforgettably. The film follows the two women, better known as “Little Edie” and “Big Edie,”— the cousin and aunt of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, living in squalor in the Grey Gardens mansion in the Hamptons. Set long after the women’s heyday—”Little Edie” was a beloved fashion icon who has since influenced everyone Lady Gaga to Marc Jacobs—we are introduced to their now shrunken world filled with memories, cats and aging relics of the past.

Grey Gardens is often credited as a trailblazer of the documentary world, totally changing the craft for future generations. This week, the New Yorker’s Richard Brody recalled how the brothers’ “underlying obsession was, in effect, something that wasn’t there: the barrier between performance and life.”

“They saw and captured the magic moment when the performer made electrifying, charismatic contact with the audience,” Brody continued. “For the Maysleses, the performer and the audience are as inseparable as the participants in a documentary and the documentarians. That’s why, in their easy-going, humanistic, and graceful way, the Maysleses were among the exemplary modernists of the era, including themselves in the onscreen action and making their presence felt, physically as well as ethically, as audaciously as any avant-gardist.”

Gardens was made in the grand tradition of great docs—that’s to say the subjects were discovered rather than initially pursued. The Maysles brothers had set out to make a film about Jackie Kennedy’s sister, Lee, when they discovered her relatives, the Beales, and their decrepit home in the Grey Gardens family mansion. After a year of forging bonds with the two women, they began to capture their livelihood on camera and ultimately created a portrait that speaks to the tragedy of missed opportunities, the power of friendship, and the great beauty found in the dark corners of forgotten places.

Over the next two months, the doc will be showing in over 10 cities around the US, and is currently screening at Film Forum in NYC. You can find out more about where and when the film will be playing around the country here. It will also be available in a restored version for home viewing. If you’ve never seen the film, you’re in for an unbelievable exploration of the human condition and the connections we share—on both sides of camera.

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