Meet Big and Little Edie Bealehigh society dropouts, mother and daughter, reclusive cousins of Jackie O.thriving together amid the decay and disorder of their ramshackle East Hampton mansion. An impossibly intimate portrait and an eerie echo of the Kennedy Camelot, Albert and David Maysless 1975 Grey Gardens has since become a cult classic and established Little Edie as fashion icon and philosopher queen.
Although it's typically described as a cult phenomenon, Grey Gardens
is something more than that by now. The 1975 documentary by brothers Albert and David Maysles (who filmed the proceedings and co-directed with Muffie Meyer and Ellen Hovde) has been turned into a hit Broadway show, with plans for a feature film in the offing; it's also the title of a song by Rufus Wainwright, and has been referenced on TV shows like The Gilmore Girls
, The L Word
, and even Rugrats
. In the process, Grey Gardens
has become part of the cultural zeitgeist, at least in the gay community, a circumstance that no doubt had some influence on the decision to package it with The Beales of Grey Gardens
, a 90-minute assemblage of outtakes and other unused material from the original film supervised by Albert Maysles and released in 2006.
One wonders if any of this would have transpired had Edith Ewing Bouvier (known as "Big Edie") and daughter Edith Bouvier Beale ("Little Edie") merely been garden variety eccentrics, instead of quasi-celebrities (the aunt and cousin, respectively, of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, nee Bouvier). On the other hand, there's a certain can't-turn-away-from-a-car-accident fascination that comes with watching the two Edies at home in their rundown, squalid East Hampton, Long Island estate (they were ordered to fix the place up before the documentary was shot, but it's still a dump, albeit a large one). With her endless parade of different "costumes," every one of them featuring a scarf, a towel, or some such material wrapped around her head (then in her mid-fifties, she had an oddball fashion sense that's a big part of her now-iconic status), Little Edie is quite a character. Considerably less appealing is her mother, a bitter, poisonous woman who apparently pressured her daughter to move back home and care for her after Big Edie's husband quite understandably abandoned her in the early 1950s. "My whole life, I've been ground down and insulted every minute," Little Edie confides to the camera, but she gives as good as she gets; the two of them squabble endlessly, mostly about past events and the careers they might have had (Big Edie as a singer, her daughter as a dancer and model). There are obviously many viewers who find this sort of terminal dysfunction appealing, even charming. For others, words like annoying and tedious may be more appropriate. And while The Beales of Grey Gardens offers more evidence that the two women actually cared for one another (there's also a good deal more interaction between the Beales and the filmmakers, along with various other visitors), it's essentially just more of the same. --Sam Graham
Stills from Grey Gardens (Click for larger image)