The late 1960s and early '70s were an incredibly fertile time for documentary films. (Not unlike the current moment, actually. When societies become disenchanted, they seem to naturally turn to nonfiction.) It was the era of Woodstock, Salesman, Cocksucker Blues, Titicut Follies, Harlan County, USA, and—above all else—Grey Gardens.
The Maysles Brothers' 1975 documentary about two women, both named Edith Beale—one was the cousin, the other the aunt of Jackie Onassis—living in mental disrepair in a squalid, ramshackle mansion in the Hamptons has become nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. Over the past 30 years, the subject's flamboyant campiness has inspired a cult-like status with gay men; the Broadway musical opened on Broadway last winter; and Drew Barrymore is currently working on the big-screen dramatization. It seems that there's only one thing for surviving co-director Albert Maysles to do with this resurgence: Cash in!
The Beales of Grey Gardens is a new film fashioned entirely from old footage that wasn't good enough to make the original movie. This isn't a follow-up on the titular women (the elder Beale died in 1977, Edie in 2002), nor is it a look at the phenomenon of the film's legacy. The Beales of Grey Gardens is simply an hour and a half of leftovers. There are a few good scenes (one including a small, but dramatic house fire), but most of the movie is comprised of exactly what you'd expect: the Beales yammering over one another, Edie singing and dancing and rambling, and the persistent sexual tension between documentarian and subject. Surely some fans are hungry enough for a Grey Gardens fix to warrant these 90 minutes, but instead of an overblown theatrical release, there's a place where this footage should have gone—it's called "bonus material" on a Criterion DVD reissue of Grey Gardens.