The filmmaker Barbara Kopple first saw the Hamptons — the string of resort towns at the tail of Long Island — in the mid-’60s, when she was in her early teens and her parents dragged her along on fishing vacations. She tells an anecdote about the summer she was talked into walking in a fashion show at a yacht club. ”It was weird,” she says. ”Most of the women in it were 18 and 21, and I probably just looked at it as more an anthropological study in human relations than anything else, watching these women sort of strutting their stuff.”
Those observational instincts have led Kopple, now 49, to the top of the documentary film business. And on a Tuesday morning in May, her decidedly girlish self-presentation — a succession of head tosses and hair flips that set her interlocutors at ease — are in evidence as she works to finish ”The Hamptons,” a two-part film shot last summer and airing on ABC June 2 and 3. (See review on page 87.) For the director, the film is a chance to reach her biggest audience since 1993, when ”Fallen Champ,” her portrait of Mike Tyson, was an NBC movie-of-the-week. For the network, it’s a venture into nonfiction programming a bit classier than ”The Bachelor” and a test of the viability of serious documentaries in the reality-TV age. For audiences, it’s a chance to exercise armchair anthropology (or indulge prurient interest) as celebrities, New York City yuppies, and just plain folks mix it up at a posh vacation spot.
With the movie due in a week, Kopple sits in a Manhattan sound studio with an editor and a sound mixer, doing the tedious work of cleaning up reality. They tone down a crunching noise in a scene captured at a polo match. They synch a bossa nova tune to footage of an entrepreneur skydiving. Next up: a babe montage with heiresses frolicking at nightclubs and bethonged models catwalking at benefit fashion shows.