Greetings again from the darkness. Rather than the usual biographic approach, this is quite a personal and intimate conversation piece as the “poor little rich girl”, Gloria Vanderbilt, recollects her life of fame with her journalist son, Anderson Cooper. Expert documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus (Oscar nominated for What Happened Miss Simone, 2015, and The Farm: Angola, USA, 1999) delivers what amounts to video memoirs as Mr. Cooper guides his 91 year old mother down Memory Lane.
This is an HBO documentary, and it will have a theatrical run in addition to multiple showings on the cable behemoth. Some may view it as an ego piece … two persons of privilege reminiscing about their “tough” lives, but it’s a stark reminder that no amount of money can prevent the heart from breaking, or the lasting effects of grief.
Gloria Vanderbilt turns out to be a relatively pragmatic lady who, with age and experience, has come to accept the unusual path her life has taken … from a basically parentless childhood, to being at the center of custody battle that created a national media frenzy, to four marriages (the first at age 17), to a personal and social life that bears mention of such names as Frank Sinatra, Richard Avedon, Charlie Chaplin, Truman Capote, Sidney Lumet and Errol Flynn. Along the way, she has been constantly involved with art … whether in the form of painting, writing, sculpting, acting – or designing the iconic jeans of the 1970’s that bore her name.
She kicks off the film by quoting Faulkner: “The past isn’t over, it’s not ever over.” It’s the perfect beginning, as the hook here is that her son Anderson Cooper has spent a couple of years going through her storage units, and is now depending on her to fill in the historical life gaps created by her letters, photographs and paintings. Much of the discussion focuses on young Gloria’s beloved nanny, as well as the custody case featuring Aunt Gertrude (who founded the Whitney Museum).
Hers may not be a life that altered the course of mankind, but now 92 year old Gloria Vanderbilt has experienced the highest highs and lowest lows, and is willing to discuss the fascinating specifics … thanks to the coaxing by her little boy.