There is no franchise like Grey Gardens. Not for documentaries, anyway. The classic 1975 Maysles brothers film about the eccentric mother and daughter pair known as Big Edie and Little Edie and their derelict Long Island estate called Grey Gardens has spawned a companion-piece sequel, a Broadway musical, and a narrative remake for HBO starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. There are spoofs. There are coffee table books. And, in a way, Grey Gardens has even inspired cosplay, uncommon with nonfiction cinema, thanks mostly to Little Edie Beale becoming an icon for fashion designers and drag queens. Now, with the documentary That Summer, there’s also a prequel.
"I think it’s very cruel to bring up the past," says Little Edie in the new documentary. "[To] dig up the past I think is about the most cruel thing anybody can do. Because you always find some awful blot. Or something that will embarrass someone." Ironically, That Summer is doing exactly the thing she admonishes: digging up old footage, presenting seemingly uncut reels of film shot in 1972 ahead of the making of Grey Gardens that's been hidden away for the last 45 years. There’s no blot or embarrassment in what’s been exhumed, though. Nothing that we haven’t encountered in the other films. Well, no, wait, there's the nonchalant moment where Big Edie Beale tells her daughter that she "shouldn’t have had incest with her uncle."