Grey Gardens Filmmaker Albert Maysles Dies at 88

Al Maysles (right) filming Grey Gardens with brother David and "Big Edie"
Al Maysles (right) filming Grey Gardens with brother David and “Big Edie,” Photo: Courtesy Criterion Collection

Just as Hamptons-filmed cult classic Grey Gardens once again grabs the spotlight, this time for its 40th anniversary, one of the film’s two creators, Albert Maysles, died on Thursday. Maysles, who made the film with his brother David (who died 1987), was 88 years old.

The Maysles brothers’ famous 1975 film took an unbiased, take-it-as-you-see-it look at the lives of Edith Bouvier and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale—cousins of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis—living in their crumbling mansion near Georgica Beach in East Hampton. The film earned mixed reviews for its raw style, but 40 years later, Grey Gardens has become a cultural phenomenon featured in books, websites, a Broadway musical and even an HBO movie starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, not to mention artwork, T-shirts and other merchandise.

Before Maysles’ death, the filmmaker was closely involved with a new 2K digital restoration of the original 16mm footage, and he was quite pleased with the result, according to Thanks largely to Criterion Collection and the Academy Film Archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the project was completed in time for a new 40th anniversary theatrical release, which began Thursday, March 6 at New York City’s Film Forum. The final product is said to maintain Grey Gardens‘ signature 16mm grittiness, to go along with its verité charm, but “thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps and jitter” were removed by hand, according to Criterion Collection, and color was also boosted or corrected at various points throughout.

Criterion Collection’s technical director Lee Kline told Indiewire that Maysles’ help was of great benefit to the project, since his memories of being at Grey Gardens ensured everything in the restored print is presented as it was when he filmed it.

Edith Bouvier, "Big Edie" and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, aka "Little Edie," at Grey Gardens
Edith Bouvier, “Big Edie” and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, aka “Little Edie,” at Grey Gardens, Photo: Courtesy Criterion Collection

In addition to the restored print, Criterion explains that the film’s original monaural soundtrack was restored under the supervision of the Academy Film Archive. Crackle was attenuated and clicks, thumps, and dropouts” were manually removed, while hiss and hum were reduced.

“American documentary would be unthinkable without Albert and David Maysles. Pioneers in the art of nonfiction filmmaking, they spearheaded the 1960s movement known as Direct Cinema, an American variation of France’s observational cinema verité, whose practitioners immersed themselves in particular worlds and established very close relationships with their subjects before filming,” Criterion writes in press materials for the restored film, inadvertantly explaining what a loss Albert Maysles’ death is to film. Most famously, the Maysles brothers also made the 1970 Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter.

Albert Maysles leaves behind Gillian Walker, his wife of 39 years, his daughters, Rebekah and Sara, son, Philip, and a stepdaughter, Auralice Graft.

Grey Gardens movie poster
Grey Gardens movie poster, Courtesy Criterion Collection

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