Essentially a prequel to iconic documentary Grey Gardens, That Summer uses recently unearthed footage from an earlier film project which was shelved before it could be released.
Once again the film focuses on Edie Beale, aunt of Jackie Onassis, and her daughter, also called Edie. The pair are the ultimate cat ladies, living in a remote mansion cut off from the rest of the world, with a clowder of feline companions. Taking place prior to the filming of the original documentary, it focuses on the family’s attempts, led by Jackie’s sister Lee, to refurbish their dilapidated residence, Grey Gardens.
If you thought the house was old and scruffy in that film, in Last Summer it looks like Manderley after it burned down. The walls and paintwork are falling to pieces, the wood is rotten, there’s junk and filth everywhere, and they lack even a basic rubbish disposal system, keeping empty cans of cat food in the basement.
This earlier documentary was to be directed by Peter Beard who gives commentary to the footage, having shot it alongside Andy Warhol with the blessing of the Bouvier family. The additional commentary gives more context that we received in Grey Gardens, although the opening, where Beard describes the idyllic summer in which members of Kennedy/Bouvier dynasty conceived of the project, actually makes things more confusing.
The Edies’ relationship once again leaps from affectionate to cruel with startling agility, but we also get further information about the hostility they faced from their neighbours. In one scene a local official comes round to check on the refurbishment, and we’re told the fire brigade was once sent round to hose the house down in an attempt to oust the pair.
The result expands on the original film without being as groundbreaking. But the Edies are once again the stars, and for more insight into the topsy turvy world of the eccentric duo, it can’t be missed.