The bonds of an eccentric mother and daughter, of residents of New Orleans and of the family and friends of a kidnapping victim are explored in this month’s documentary picks.
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By Ben Kenigsberg
The proliferation of documentaries on streaming services makes it difficult to choose what to watch. Each month, we’ll choose three nonfiction films — classics, overlooked recent docs and more — that will reward your time.
‘Grey Gardens’ (1976)
Stream it on the Criterion Channel and HBO Max. Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play and Vudu.
Why “Grey Gardens,” one of the best-known and most-parodied documentaries from the “direct cinema” pioneers Albert and David Maysles? Partly it’s because several more offbeat Maysles selections — like “Showman,” a portrait of the producer Joseph E. Levine, or “In Transit,” an Amtrak odyssey that turned out to be Albert’s final film — aren’t available to stream. (Someone get on that!) And partly it’s because arguments about the potential cinematic exploitation of Kennedy-adjacent figures are raging again, thanks to the movie version of “Blonde.”
Funny, sad and intensely voyeuristic, “Grey Gardens” is eternally capable of starting a good fight about the relationship between documentarian and subject. The Maysles, who share directing credit with Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, enter the private world of Big and Little Edie Beale, a mother and daughter who are relatives of Jackie Kennedy. They live together in seclusion at an ocean-view East Hampton estate whose upkeep leaves much to be desired. You won’t meet a less self-conscious onscreen pair, whether it’s Big Edie eating ice cream straight from the container in her cluttered bed or Little Edie expounding on her bizarre wardrobe choices. They argue about the spinster 56-year-old Little Edie’s former marriage prospects. Little Edie implies that her mother is keeping her from a more fulfilling life in the city. “Raccoons and cats become a little bit boring,” she says. “I mean, for too long a time.”
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