Grey Gardens to Receive 2011 Cinema Eye Legacy Award; Filmmakers Albert Maysles, Muffie Meyer and Susan Froemke to Accept on Behalf of the Film
New York – The Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking announced today that this year’s Legacy Award will be presented to the landmark 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens. Filmmakers Albert Maysles, Muffie Meyer and Susan Froemke will accept the award on behalf of the film and the collaborative team that created one of the most enduring and influential documentaries ever made.
The award will be presented on January 18, 2011 at the 4th Annual Cinema Eye Honors ceremony to be held at the newly re-opened Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York. The event will be broadcast on the Documentary Channel on Sunday, January 30, 2011.
“Grey Gardens stands as a testament to the collaborative nature of filmmaking,” Cinema Eye Honors Co-Chair AJ Schnack said. “It endures not only on the basis of great characters and superb storytelling, but also on the creative choices of its makers, including the decision, somewhat risky at the time, to include the subjects’ interactions with Al and David Maysles in the film itself.”
“There are some things about Grey Gardens that I think every documentary filmmaker would hope for–the fulfilling collaboration between producers, cinematographer, sound-person, editors, and subjects all being so pleased with the film,” said co-director Albert Maysles. “When Mrs. Beale saw the film she said, ‘This is something everyone should do. There’s nothing more to say; it’s all in the film.’ We all aim for that kind of happiness. Just as Big Edie and Little Edie so appreciated Grey Gardens, we too appreciate the film being honored with this year’s Legacy Award 2011 from Cinema Eye. It means a lot to all of us.”
To read the full article, go to http://www.cinemaeyehonors.com/archives/press/grey-gardens-to-receive-2011-cinema-eye-legacy-award
In post-production, a series of cinema verite style short videos for medical students, focussing on doctor-patient communication skills.
Meyer and Blumer give presentation on Alexander Hamilton at 10th Annunal Researching New York Conference, held at the University of Albany.
Fall 2001 – Journal entry by Charles Darby, Line Producer
A few calls to TV movie producers, who are notorious for taking chances on exotic locations if they can save a buck, uncovered Lithuania as a possibility. Lithuania had been independent of the Soviets for ten years but was off the beaten path enough that a tourist industry had not really developed. Funds were still tight, so that massive rebuilding and modernizing had not taken place. (The streets of the capital are still swept by hand using twig brooms). A film studio, left over from the Soviets, was located in the capital city, Vilnius, so there was an indigenous production crew that we could work with. After getting some picture books of various Vilnius streets and buildings, we decided to investigate further. We were amazed when we compared these modern photos of historic Vilnius to period engravings we had of 18th century London and Paris.
Because none of us spoke Russian or Lithuanian, we decided to communicate in “pictures.” We had storyboards drawn of the scenes we hoped to film there and sent them to Lithuania. The local production staff reviewed the storyboards and then went out to find appropriate locations that matched our drawings. They took snapshots and then e-mailed them to us. After reviewing the photos and getting an estimated cost for shooting in Lithuania for two weeks, we decided to go there. (It should be noted that it is unusual to go to a location, dragging six US and one British crew member almost half way around the planet, without going in advance and meeting the local staff and visiting the proposed locations). Unfortunately, we didn’t have the funds to send an advance party — fortunately, it all worked out.
We shot for two weeks, and were able to film an enormous number of scenes in this limited time. For the most part, the crews were very experienced – all were hard working. The Soviet occupation had in some sense put Lithuania into a “deep freeze.” All we had to do to create a historic cobblestone street was to put up some historic signage, and fill the street with other period elements; other effects of the occupation, however, created some real problems.
When it came time to do interior scenes, such as a fancy dinner party – we couldn’t locate upscale historic tableware or other historic household furnishings. We discovered that during the Soviet occupation, the country had been looted of these sorts of things. Normally, when doing such scenes, the art department would rent the necessary items from antique stores, but very few antique stores exist in Lithuania, due to the dearth of antiques. We filmed in some old mansions and estates, the exteriors being still gorgeous and grand, but the interiors were dreary. The Russians had stripped out anything that could be unbolted and carted away; and dull brown seemed to be the only paint color authorized. After a week of searching for the scene requiring a fancy dinner setting, we were able to locate a set of fine china. It belonged to our assistant costume designer – her family had kept it buried in their yard for decades, to prevent it from being confiscated.
All the film footage was sent back to the US for processing, so we were not able to review any of the footage until we returned – very nerve wracking. It was great to be home after three weeks, but equally wonderful to sit back and relive our journey to Lithuania as we watched the “dailies.”
Fall, 2001 – Journal entry by Charles Darby, Line Producer
Why not go to the original source – present day London and Paris? These two bustling cosmopolitan cities are filled with many historic structures, but the imposition of the 21st century is unavoidable. Filming, even on a street filled with historic structures, would require the removal of all vehicles, the covering of the pavement with dirt, removal of all street signs, street lights, the covering of modern signage. AND THEN, when all this is done, all the period historic elements that replicate 18th century street “life” must be brought in and put up. The imposition to the owners of all the buildings on the street requires that they be compensated. In short, to turn such a street back in time almost three centuries is a very expensive undertaking.
With the limited funds we had to make “Benjamin Franklin”, we probably could only afford to create one period setting in London or Paris, when in fact we needed dozens. Our problem: we needed to find a single location that was generally inexpensive (London & Paris are not inexpensive places to visit) and that had a plethora of historic architecture that was unscathed by the 21st century.
Prague became very popular with filmmakers in the 1980s, with the fall of communism. It has many wonderful historic buildings and could easily “double” for any number of European cities. Under the Soviets, the lack of a market economy and the fiscal conditions of the State meant that little had been done to “modernize and commercialize” the city. Many city streets, in the 1980s, looked as they had for centuries. But as money and tourists flowed into Prague, this rapidly changed. Old historic streets now boast McDonalds, Starbucks, neon signs, Prada shops, etc. Cobblestone streets have been covered with asphalt, in deference to the automobile. While labor costs are much cheaper than in London or Paris, it would still be expensive, if not impossible, to turn these streets back in time a few hundred years. We needed to find the “new Old Prague.”
July, 2001 – Journal entry by Muffie Meyer, Co-Producer/Director
One of the shots that we planned is of people congregating around a town pump in the Boston of Franklin’s childhood. Suddenly, it occurred to us: were there town pumps in 18th century American cities? We made two calls: one to a key scholar/advisor, Keith Arbour, the other to Beth Gilgun, an extremely knowledgeable source for costumed re-creators and all sorts of diverse information.
Keith went to John Bonner’s “The Town of Boston in New England” and reported that there was a map from 1722 with two or more public pumps on it. Great – there were town pumps! Beth Gilgun’s email was also fascinating – about plumbing in the 18th century:
After about 1700, Boston had sewers to take the discharge from indoor pumps. “Probably no city anywhere had better subsurface drainage” than Boston.
“Twelve scavengers made money for the town by selling loads of the dirt and filth.”
Because lumber had to come from Maine, brick was Boston’s cheapest construction material in the 1760s. New houses usually had gardens in the rear, a private pump, and (after fire-prevention rules were relaxed in 1765) wooden outhouses.
To keep pumps from freezing in the winter, newspapers suggested pumping a tub full of water before going to bed, bringing warmer water up into the device. Some pumps were in cellars, others outside.
Boston from Carl Bridenbaugh, “Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America,” 1743-1776. New York: Knopf, 1955.
Based on a drawing of an 18th century Boston pump from the Harvard Newspaper, The College Pump, supplied to us by Keith Arbour and other drawings researched by Andrew Jackness, our amazing Production Designer, Andy designed this wooden pump (which was then built by the Art Department crew in Lithuania).
March 2001 – Journal entry by Jennifer Raikes, Director of Research
Today was our first “Scholar Shoot.” We filmed interviews with two experts on the life of Benjamin Franklin: Keith Arbour and Claude-Anne Lopez. A lot of preparation goes into these shoots. The writer comes up with penetrating interview questions. The producers decide how the shots should look. The line producer schedules the film crew, juggles travel arrangements, parking permits, equipment rentals, etc. And importantly, a production assistant scouts out the nearest deli for lunch.
But when it comes down to it, in New York City, life revolves around real estate. This is particularly true when you are trying to come up with a place to film interviews for a documentary. We have a lot of particular requirements for the space: it needs to look appropriate to the subject matter of the interview, be big enough to fit the crew and our camera, sound and lighting equipment, without a lot of stairs to climb with all that heavy gear, and preferably, be free. The hardest requirement to meet: the location needs to be very quiet. Despite all the wonders of technology in this day and age, it really isn’t easy to edit out the sound of a cab honking just as the scholar makes a brilliant point. For a filmmaker, the best friends to have are those with large apartments in peaceful, elevator buildings.
One of our producers, Ellen Hovde, had a friend with just such an apartment and she’d generously allowed us to invade it for the day. At lunch at our office yesterday, over the sound of jackhammers pounding the pavement below, we chatted about our good luck. “Watch out,” our line producer joked. “Tomorrow, those jackhammers will follow us up to 93rd Street.”
Halfway through the first interview of the day, the road crew arrived. The noise made it impossible to continue the shoot.
With some quick thinking – and packing — the day, though delayed, was saved. We made a last minute scramble over to producer Muffie Meyer’s apartment (calling ahead to be sure there were no more road crews to surprise us) and jammed ourselves and our carts of equipment into the living room. It was tight, but we didn’t miss out on Claude-Anne Lopez’s fascinating stories of Franklin’s youth. (Muffie was very glad she’d washed the dishes last night.)