Ellen Hovde, ‘Grey Gardens’ Documentarian, Dies at 97

She was one of the directors of the groundbreaking 1975 film Gray Gardens, which explored the lives of two reclusive women living in a dilapidated mansion on Long Island and inspired both Broadway musicals and HBO films. Documentary writer Ellen Hobde has died. At her home in Brooklyn on February 16th. she was 97 years old.

Her death was not widely reported, but was confirmed last week by her children, Tessa Huxley and Mark Trevenen Huxley, who said the cause of death was Alzheimer’s disease.

Ms. Hovde (pronounced Havdi), along with brothers Albert and David Maysles, expanded the form of documentary in the late 1960s and 70s with cinema verité techniques in favor of abstaining from sitting. Worked on several films. Interviews where she prefers to document life and events as they are.

In 1969, she was a contributing editor to “The Salesman,” a documentary by Mr. and Mrs. Maysley and Charlotte Zwerin that followed four salesmen selling $49.95 Bibles door-to-door in New England and Florida. The following year, she became the editor of Gimme Shelter, a documentary by Mr. and Mrs. Maysries and Ms. Zwerin. This documentary chronicles the Rolling Stones’ tour, including a concert at Northern California’s Altamont Speedway in late 1969 where a concertgoer was murdered by the Hells. angel.

In 1974, she was credited as the director of The Curtain of the Valley of Christ, along with Mr. and Mrs. Maysleys. environmental art project Founded in Colorado in 1972 by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.

The following year, “Gray Gardens” appeared.That movie that got a lot of attention then and in 2010 Registered in the National Film Registry Featuring a number of culturally significant films, it chronicles the lives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ relatives Edie Beale and her mother Edith Beale, who dropped out of high society and lived in East Hampton, New York. I took a close-up. A crumbling mansion and various cats and raccoons.

The film came about somewhat by accident when Onassis’ sister, Lee Radziwill, suggested that the Maysleys and Hobde make a documentary about Onassis’ childhood. Among the people she suggested we talk to were the Beale family, known as Little Eadie and Big Eadie. Radziwill’s proposed documentary did not materialize, but the Maysleys and Hobde were interested in the Biel family and suggested making it into a film.

“Big Edie didn’t want to do much at first,” Hobde said in an interview. 1978 interview Along with the movie quarterly magazine. “So did little Edie.”

Murphy Meyer, who would partner Hobde on a number of films over the next few years, soon joined the project. Hobde and Meyer, along with the Maysle brothers, were credited as directors on the film, but in addition to Susan Froemke, they were also editors, and the editor played a pivotal role for Hobde.

“Someone who edits is doing something like a combination of writing and directing,” she told Film Quarterly. “The person shapes, structures, structures the material, what is actually displayed on the screen: what the ideas are, what the sequence of events will be, where the emphasis will be. make decisions about.”

“Grey Gardens” required dozens of hours of film to shape a portrait that reveals the codependent relationship between two eccentric women. Meyer said that if portable cameras and tape recorders enabled the kind of filmmaking used in “Gray Gardens,” another important factor was editing.

“Basically, a ton of footage (usually 60+ hours) was thrown into the editing room with no script and little to no direction,” she said in an email. “The editor’s job was to screen it, organize it, take careful notes, find the story and structure. Ellen was a master at all this, but not many (Charlotte Zwerin is one was).”

“Gray Gardens” garnered both praise and disapproval from critics.Film critic Roger Ebert called it “One of the most haunting documentaries in a long time.” But Richard Eder, writing in The New York Times, said that “the artistry and dedication to making the film leave no doubt.” No,” he said, but “moviegoers will still feel like exploiters.”

Debate over whether “Gray Gardens” and other films of the same style exploit their subject matter or invade their privacy is still ongoing, and when the film was released, no such complaints were filed. chorus arose. But Hobde said in an interview with Film Quarterly that the Beals themselves challenged that interpretation.

“In the months when there was a lot of controversy about it, it was Mrs. Beale and Edie who called us and said, ‘You know there’s been criticism like this, don’t worry. ’ she said.’ All right. We know it’s an honest image. we believe in it. We don’t want you to be upset. ’ That was their attitude, and they never wavered. “

A musical based on the documentary opened on Broadway in 2006 and won three Tony Awards, and in 2009, the HBO film Gray Gardens starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as Mr. and Mrs. Beale. It won six Emmy Awards.

Formed in 1978 by Ms Hobde and Ms Meyer middlemarch movie, went on to produce numerous documentary features and videos in various styles and on a wide range of subjects. Some works explored subjects from an era before the advent of film and photography, using actors to recreate scenes. One of them, his 2002 Benjamin His Mini-His series about Franklin, co-directed by Meyer and Hobde, won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Featured Non-Fiction.

Meyer said Hobde was a stickler for precision on projects like this.

“One example is her obsession with the accuracy of bird songs and frog calls in colonial films,” she said. “She confounded the sound editors (and had her tear up during one late-night session), saying, ‘Is this frog endemic to the Northeast and croaks in late autumn?’ I was. “This bird tweet added to the soundtrack, was she really a bird seen in Virginia in the 18th century?”

Ellen Margerete Hobde was born on March 9, 1925 in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Her father, Brynjolf (known as Bryn), was president of the New School for Social Research from 1945 until she was 1950, and her mother, Teresse (Arneson) Hobde, was a nurse. rice field.

Hovde grew up in Pittsburgh, earned a degree in drama from Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1947, and then spent some time at the University of Oslo. In 1950 she married Matthew Huxley, son of author Aldous L. Huxley. Although the marriage ended in divorce, Hobde’s son said he remained friends with Aldous Huxley until his death in 1963, and occasionally read to a tape recorder as Huxley’s eyesight began to fail. It is said that

Hobde wanted a career as a stage director, but was unable to find work, so he took a job as an administrative assistant at a film school. By the early 1950s, she began learning editing.Her credits included editing before she started working with the Maysles brothers “Margaret Mead’s New Guinea Journal” (1968) was broadcast on New York public television station WNET, and in 1969 a Simon and Garfunkel television special was broadcast on CBS.

Hobde’s second marriage to Adam Edward Giffard in 1963 also ended in divorce. In addition to her children, she has two grandchildren.

Meyer said Hobde’s house was a gathering place for documentarians in the 1970s, and he even helped organize filmmakers’ cookbooks, copying everyone’s favorite recipes.

“Most of us still use it,” she said.

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