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Grey Gardens (The Criterion Collection)
Special Edition, The Criterion Collection
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Grey Gardens is an American entry into the cinéma verité documentary style film. This one however, is a fascinating look into the lives of the rich and useless. The subjects are related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis which makes them even more fascinating. Really. The directors of this film are considered pioneers of the documentary film. This one revolves around Mother, daughter and their decaying mansion. The daughter cannot let go of the past, they snipe at each other, reliving the past, and the heartfelt, raw emotions involved in a daughter giving up her hopes and dreams of an acting career to take care of her ailing and aging mother. Poor thing, she only has money and a mansion to soothe the wounds of her unfulfilled dreams. This documentary is worth seeing because it is exceptionally well done. After all, don't we all want to watch the whining, wealthy, elite on screen so we can take a peek into their everyday lives?
Grey Gardens is the name of a neglected, sprawling estate gone to seed. The crumbling mansion was home to Edith Bouvier Beale, often referred to as "Big Edie," and her daughter, "Little Edie." The East Hampton, Long Island, home became the center of quite a scandal when it was revealed in 1973 that the reclusive aunt and cousin to Jackie O. were living in a state of poverty and filth. That's the background to this 1976 film portrait by cinéma vérité pioneers Albert and David Maysles, but it's only incidental to the fascinating story they discover inside the estate walls.
The two Edies have lived in almost complete seclusion since the mid-1950s, ever since Big Edie's husband abandoned her and Little Edie (then a young socialite on the verge of a dancing career, or so she claims) was called home to care for her depressed mother. Twenty years later they continue to live in their memories while camped out in a single bedroom of the 28-room mansion overrun with cats (who use the floor as their litter box). Rehashing mistakes and missed chances with an accusing banter that becomes more stinging and angry as the documentary progresses, they exist in a sad codependency brings new meaning to the term dysfunctional. Disturbing and discomforting, it comes off like a freak show at times, but for all their arguments and recriminations, the Maysles reveal two women abandoned by their families who are left to cling to each other, for better or worse. --Sean Axmaker
- Audio commentary by directors Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer, and associate producer Susan Froemke
- Excerpts from a recorded interview with Little Edie Beale by Kathryn G. Graham for Interview magazine (1976)
- Video interviews with fasion designers Todd Oldham and John Bartlett on the continuing influence of Grey Gardens
- Hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs
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The Beales, mother and daughter (Edie and "Little" Edie), were at one time beautiful, no doubt fashionable, wealthy, prominent members of high society, with a large mansion, "Grey Gardens," full of appropriate possessions to match. Unfortunately, Mr. Beale's death (I didn't catch when but it had to have been many years earlier) led them into a year-by-year, seemingly never-ending spiral of increasing pathetic physical ruin and personal dispair.
By the time of the documentary, they have long-since lost the ability to care for the mansion, it's possessions, themselves or their health. They have effectively been removed from current reality and exist almost entirely amid memories, many very clear to both, some with recriminations and lots with "if only's." They have seemingly lost all but perfunctory contact with their family (a brother of Edith's is said to pay the taxes) and have no visible source of income. And, seemingly as a result of the situation, have descended into a completely self-absorbed, mutually accusatory / codependent relationship, possibly diagnosable as some form of mental illness for one or both.
A really difficult, truly sad but sometimes very funny situation, made poignant by their memories of what was and by implication what could have been. In some ways they may be seen as heroic, still able to laugh under the appalling circumstances. Undoubtedly many controversial questions could be asked of the Beale's, the family, the filmmakers, the government, and society. Worth watching and thinking about from lots of viewpoints ... well done.
The Beales were related to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and were part of high society and very rich, but then fell on hard times. They ended up living in squalor in an old dilapidated mansion called "Grey Gardens." The press got wind of it, published the story in newspapers, and gave genius filmmakers Albert Maysles and his brother David the idea to make a documentary about the Beales, which would become the "Grey Gardens" film.
Some might call this exploitation or voyeurism--which it might be--but either way the Beales are certainly entertaining. Never mind the filth, the raccoons, and the numerous cats about the place that find it fit to relieve themselves wherever, Edith and "L'il" Edie are characters that you would not believe!
The matriarch, Edith, reminds me of the character "Sophia Petrillo" on the 80's TV show The Golden Girls - The Complete First Season. She's old and says exactly what's on her mind, sometimes at the expense of her daughter Edie. Edie is like Bette Davis's character "Baby Jane" in the film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Two-Disc Special Edition). Once a statuesque model, Edie now runs around with a scarf on her head--we never see her without a scarf/turban--bathing suits with fishnet stockings, and layers of clothes held together with safety pins etc. creating whole new fashions. She dances around and gives her ideas on the state of the world, flirts with the Maysles, and the two women fight and sing throughout the two films.
You can't turn away! Sometimes it's very sad to watch the Beales, while other times you can't help but laugh out loud. It really makes you wonder what happened to them. Both were gorgeous and smart women in their time, so it's hard to imagine how they ended up in such an awful state. Perhaps they were a product of their respective generations where women were supposed to know their place and little else. Either way it's really an eye-opening look at lives that are filled with regret.
I feel sorry for Edie because of her over-bearing mother. I also think Edie suffered from social anxiety and that's why she couldn't leave "Grey Gardens" or ever felt comfortable living by herself in NYC when she was younger. And she continues to say that she has to move away from her mother and "Grey Gardens" but she never does. Anyway, both women are more than able to hold their own on camera and each has a personality that eclipses any famous relations they have. Jackie O becomes an after thought.
The GREY GARDENS DVD contains the original documentary-all cleaned up--foldout insert with liner notes by Hilton Als (writer for "The New Yorker") and these bonus features:
*** AUDIO INTERVIEW---40:47-Minutes--1976
Kathryn Graham interviews Edie and one of the Maysles for "Interview" magazine. She asks Edie about her thoughts of the movie, the past, regrets etc. There are 11-audio selections that you can choose individually or play all.
*** 2 FEATURETTES---05:20-Minutes---05:22-Minutes
TODD OLDHAM == Interview with designer Todd Oldham about Edie and Grey Gardens being style and fashion inspirations.
JOHN BARTLETT == Interview with Bartlett about the film and Edie as fashion icon.
*** STILL PHOTO ALBUMS
Interactive photo albums including "family album" and "behind the scenes."
THE BEALES OF GREY GARDENS is some of the extra footage that wasn't used in the original "Grey Gardens." Viewers get to see Edie leave the house, go to church, and go swimming at the beach. This DVD also has a foldout insert with liner notes by Michael Musto (writer for "The Village Voice") and contains:
*** INTRO BY ALBERT MAYSLES--about 8:30-Minutes
Touching intro by Albert Maysles who talks about his memories of the Beales and "Grey Gardens" and you get to see Jerry, the young teenager in GG, all grown up.
The Maysles have created another interesting movie based on real life people and I adore Edie and her unconventional nature. Definitely recommend this set for documentary film lovers and film students and anyone who likes camp. Also checkout the Maysles other films The Beatles - The First U.S. Visit and The Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter - Criterion Collection.
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