Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 1975. Portrait Films. Cinematography by Albert Maysles, David Maysles. Produced by Albert Maysles, David Maysles. Film Editing by Susan Froemke, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer.
Is it possible that the old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction” could be better proved anywhere else than in this film? David and Albert Maysles, after having a huge success with their live Rolling Stones film Gimme Shelter, took their documentary cameras into the home of mother and daughter eccentrics “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beale, former socialites who were cousins of Jacqueline Onassis and were now living in a crumbling mansion on Long Island. The Maysles sit back and observe as Little Edie prances about the house in her highly original outfits, complains about her mother, moans wildly about wanting to go to New York and waxes poetic about the men she could have married, while her delightfully ornery mother sits back and yells overtop of her in an effort to keep her quiet. Many of the moments these women allow us to witness are beyond belief in their wackiness (Little Edie whispers that she needs to get away from the icebox like she’s being stalked in a horror movie), but the filmmakers aren’t out to exploit them; the Bealeses are treated with a curious eye for sure, but there’s also a lot of empathy and adoration coming from behind the camera. How could there not be, after all; watching Big Edie sing “Tea For Two” is among the most cherishable moments captured on film. If Andy Warhol had made this movie with actors you can guarantee, first of all, that it would have turned out exactly the same way and, secondly, that it would have become a camp classic (which, considering it has been adapted into a stage musical and has been credited with inspiring many fashion designers, is already the case anyway). Later followed by a sequel.