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The Hamptons - Bubbleheads with Baubles

The Vineyard Gazette
By Sam Low

Thanks Barbara Kopple for revealing the way we never want to be in your two part documentary - "The Hamptons" - broadcast last Sunday and Monday on ABC.

Kopple, you may remember, is the Oscar winning maker of "Harlan County" - a biting documentary on coal mining. In "The Hamptons" she turns her camera on the funloving denizens of that long finger of beach thrust into the Atlantic a few hours from New York City where, but for fortune, go you and I. Or - perhaps - but for other, deeper values.

Kopple's documentary roams freely through a pastiche of Hamptonian events - polo games, mating games, bar games and the biggest game of all - being seen in the right places (Rowdy Hall, Rocco's on the Beach, Nick & Toni's) with the right people. Like an anthropologist out to record behavior for later analysis in the lab, she presents a portrait of a unique species of American - what Menken called "Boobus Americanus." She chooses a slice of time to conduct her research - from Memorial Day to September 12th (yes, the irony of it) when the Hamptons is occupied by the annual migration of yuppies and celebs. Beneath the gauzy luster of all that lush scenery - those long beaches and mansions dreaming in the soft focus of many setting suns - she captures the meaning of it all - the deep culture, you might say. It's revealed in moments of stunning honesty, like Kopple's interview with Jacqueline Lipson, a marriage attorney who explains that her sojourn in the Hamptons is part of a deadly serious quest: "I have to be engaged by 29, because I can't not be married by 30, because I have to have my children by 32, because I have to open my own practice. I have a whole life plan."

Kopple cuts from one boisterous bozo and boozy floozy to another - admittedly each of them lush bosomed, well coifed and oh so deft with a wine glass - to present a montage of moments, each seemingly more amusing (if you don't actually have to live there) than the next. A Minister in white robes proclaims: "With the power invested in me by you two gorgeous people, I am so happy to pronounce you husband and wife." Or the man who inquires during a phone conversation: "Is this an invitation-only funeral?"

Kopple was there when the now apparently infamous incident occurred at the fashionable Conscience Point Inn. During a socialite party there New York Publicist Lizzie Grubman (don't you love it?) was asked by a doorman to move her car. In a fit of pique, she backed her M-Class Mercedes over an inconvenient crowd of people, injuring 16, then simply took off. Later she returned to the scene of the crime - after the mess was cleaned up - and vented at the doorman who so irritated her: ""F--- you, white trash," she allegedly yelled.

What's the local verdict on such behavior? Kopple presents as much as we're going to get of it in a sequence in which local author Steven Gaines ("Philistines at the Hedgerow") is speaking on the phone about Lizzie. "I just think that, you know, she's blond and she's kinda pretty, and her father was powerful and rich, and this terrible tragedy happened." This is the same guy who, after the traffic death of an apparently beloved local restaurateur, hangs up the phone and delivers his assessment of the loss: "People are already worried what to wear to the funeral."

Researching this piece, I found an Internet site entitled iHamptons, which carried an article by an unknown author trying to unravel the violence growing in the Hamptons, along with the crowds. "Why can't visitors calm down out here?" he writes. "Or can these people calm down anywhere? Or maybe some people didn't come out here to calm down at all. Maybe they came here to feel important. And you know, it's hard to feel important in a society where everybody thinks they're important, or really is important, or has a bigger house with more landscaping or a better car or a smaller cell phone." The author goes on to offer his own assessment of the malady. It's "affluenza," he writes, "a malaise of the spirit brought on by too much cash in the wallets of baby boomers."

There are a few real people in the film - the "downstairs people" you might call them to distinguish them from the upstairs glitterati - and they deliver their own commentary on the invasion of Boobus Americanus. A local fisherman, for example, doesn't seem to blame the newcomers for wanting to be in the Hamptons but they "come here in such numbers they destroy the very thing that they come for," he says. "And there's another reality that takes place-they gradually change it to where they came from."

So yes, thank you Barbara Kopple, for your portrait of what can happen to a fragile and once beautiful place when it morphs from a simple summer resort to a destination for fun loving, game playing, "beautiful people" - the kind of people about which Neva, a young woman looking back on her summer in the Hampton says: "These are children. I realized that I don't really want to be like them."

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