Overview: Born into one of the wealthiest and best-known families in American history, Gloria Vanderbilt has lived in the public eye for more than 90 years, unapologetically pursuing love, family and career, while experiencing extreme tragedy and tremendous success side by side. Directed by Liz Garbus, the poignant and revealing feature-length documentary Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper features a series of candid conversations as Vanderbilt and her youngest son, Anderson Cooper, look back at her remarkable life.
Intertwining archival footage and previously unseen home videos spanning eight decades with present-day scenes, the film paints an intimate portrait of one of America’s most fascinating families. Cooper and Vanderbilt tell the story of their past and present, losses and loves, and show how, in life, patterns repeat themselves in the most unexpected ways.
Expectations: I’m not sure why but in seeing the promotion for this documentary I wasn’t taken over by any sense of interest or excitement. We have already seen a number of films about people wanting to understand their parent. Usually it consists of a child remembering and conceptualizing their parent’s life in video after that parent’s death. EVERYTHING IS COPY is a good recent example of that. This one at least offers a varied approach of child (CNN’s Anderson Cooper) interviewing the parent (mother Gloria Vanderbilt) about the life lived before it became too late.
One other point that kinds of irks me is that many a famous person gets there lives told in this fashion. They can get a book published and get a cinematic documentation of their lives because they or their loved ones have the resources to do so yet there are just as many interesting stories from the rest of society that could be told. The documentary format, at least does tell the stories of everyday people; this particular one just isn’t one of them. Whether or not this video-captured conversation holds my attention remains to be seen.
Gut Reaction: I love it when I’m wrong. I love it when I go into a piece not very enthused and come out of it having enjoyed the experience. That is exactly what has happened here. Though it is just another story of a child trying to put their parent’s life in perspective at least this one offers a fascinating life story to tell. Part of my new found appreciation for the documentary comes from my ignorance of not putting facts together.
I was vaguely aware, had I really put some thought into it, that there was a Vanderbilt scandal involving the “poor little rich girl” and I was aware that Anderson Cooper’s mother was fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, but I never needed to put two and two together to learn that those two facts were talking about the same person. This documentary puts those pieces together just perfectly and recreates the whole life of our subject concisely and interestingly. Also spelled out for us are childhood memories, multiple marriages, artistic endeavors seen on canvas and film and a numerous amount of tragedies and sadness for one lifetime. The film captures in taped confessions Gloria had though the years and in a sit down with her son Anderson. You really do listen to what see endured and to the carefully formed words in reflection. Also enhancing the words are the various images of Gloria’s own artwork.
Anderson Cooper also adds depth to the film. He does not just sit there as interviewer feeding out questions and looking over her shoulder at art and old letters. He is not there objectively; he is in this piece intimately connected to his mother, reliving her life and his life with her. That includes the difficult remembrances of Carter Cooper, (Anderson’s older brother) who committed suicide in front of Gloria. In the end we see how it affected each of them greatly, exposing inner feelings not otherwise expressed and paints them both as so touchingly human and fragile.
In Conclusion: At 91 Gloria Vanderbilt has led a difficult life. Her life clearly proves that money and wealth don’t equate with happiness. She still holds on with a resiliency among her anguishes and she has a strong supportive son to be there for her. That could describe many a silent woman of today out there.
So then what do I really walk away with in watching this? This mother & son put into a film a life lesson perhaps; one that might have been better served had it been aired during Mother’s Day. I know that this is not the film’s intent, but it left me thinking that there should be NOTHING LEFT UNSAID between a mother and child. Know her, understand her, support her and appreciate her regardless of whether her life was as fascinating as Gloria Vanderbilt’s.
Next: HEART OF A DOG in which artist Laurie Anderson pays tribute to her late, beloved dog in this deeply personal cinematic collage, debuts 04.25 at 9:00pm.