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Grey Gardens (The Criterion Collection)

4.2 out of 5 stars 616 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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

Special Features

  • 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

Product Details

  • Actors: Brooks Hyers, Edith Beale, Norman Peale
  • Directors: Albert Maysles
  • Producers: Albert Maysles, David Maysles
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Parental Guidance Suggested
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: June 1, 2010
  • Run Time: 94 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (616 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005KHJX
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,882 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Grey Gardens (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Westley VINE VOICE on December 6, 2005
Format: DVD
"Grey Gardens" is a one-of-a-kind documentary exploring a mother-daughter relationship. These aren't just two anonymous people though; instead, the film chronicles Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, "Little Edie," who just happen to be the aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. The filmmakers, Albert and David Maysles, initially intended the film to be about Jackie's sister, Lee Radziwill. However, after being introduced to Edith and Little Edie by Lee, they decided to shift the focus.

What makes these two women so interesting? First, they live in a giant decaying mansion (the titular "Grey Gardens") in luxurious East Hampton. The family was extremely wealthy at one time, until Edith divorced and lost most of her money. She apparently stayed in the 28-room Grey Gardens mansion despite a lack of money for upkeep. The women show pictures of themselves from years earlier, and they were obviously beautiful society scions. However, they became more and more isolated from society as they hunkered down into their mansion At one point, the mansion was even raided by East Hampton officials, who wanted to evict the pair due to the unsanitary living conditions. Jackie subsequently helped them clean up the mansion.

All of this action, though, occurs before the film starts in 1975 (some of the back story is presented in pictures and newspaper stories). In fact, in the documentary, not much new happens: the women continue their bizarre existence in the mansion and argue. They argue a lot. Every conversation is filled with their remembrances of better times, when Little Edie was desired by wealthy men and Edith carried on an affair with a pianist. This life is so far removed from their current surroundings, and their regrets about that disparity quickly surface.
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Format: DVD
This stellar portrayal of two women, a mother and daughter, who spend their days in a run down house and are ironically aunt and cousin to Jackie O, displays documentary film-making at its very best. Although much has been said about the film, the focus always tends to emphasize the sordid living conditions that Edith Bovier Beale and her unmarried daughter, Little Edie inhabit, in an old estate in Easthampton, New York. Their house has been condemned by officials in Easthampton, and they live with cats and raccoons, but they don't give a damn about it. They are virtual recluses in their upscale community, "full of nasty Republicans." However, the film is not about the squalor that most of us would balk at in conventional situations. Their surroundings are only a backdrop and metaphor for the lost opportunities, and isolation that the women are subjected to as societal outcasts. Whether this is by choice, or due to their eccentricities is a mixed bag, but "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" are such magnetically charged women, it is fair to say that they are their own superstars within the world they have created.
Much of the film's pathos is magnified by the mother and daughter relationship. Little Edie, once a gorgeous, brilliant young woman feels she has been forced to sacrifice her life and a potential career as an entertainer, to look after her mother. Big Edie, once a veritable beauty in her day, was written out of her father's will for her aspirations to become a singer, and after her divorce retreated to her sea-side estate to spend the rest of her days. It is apparent that both women are extremely co-dependent, but in spite of their inherent needs to look after each other, Little Edie is full of resentment over the arrangement.
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Format: DVD
The Maysles Brothers' famous 1975 documentary of a former society mother and her grown daughter (both former cousins of Jackie Onassis and both named Edie Beale) falling to pieces in their similarly-dilapidated East Hampton mansion has acquired a consider cult following over the years due to the Miss Havisham qualities of its subjects, who once both were great wealthy beauties and have fallen to bare subsistence living (and who both seem clearly mentally ill). The Maysles have been greatly criticized for showcasing these women as circus oddities, but as little Edie makes clear in a tape-recorded interview included in this beautiful Criterion Collection edition, both women loved the chance to have the attention given to them; the film also made it possible for little Edie to follow her dream of moving to NYC to work, albeit briefly, as a cabaret star.

But it would also seem wrong simply to characterize the two women as free spirits doing their own thing and being fabulous, as many of the films' cultists are mistakenly wont to do: GREY GARDENS at times seems a genuine hell for the women as well as for the viewer, who must endure the mother and daughter occasionally shrieking menacingly at one another over one another's words. And Little Edie seems like a lost fourth sister from Chekhov, bemoaning her lost chances at matrimony and escaping to the big city. But both women seem intelligent despite their moments of mental confusion, and Little Edie's editorializing during a Dr. Norman Vincent Peale radio broadcast (one of the film's highlights) shows her sharpness as well as her wicked sense of humor. And it is precisely the discomfort that the film occasions -- its refusal to sentimentalize these down-but-not-yet-out society survivors -- that makes it seem so memorable, and such a comment on the American tendency to trash the past even while nostalgically clinging to its wreckage.
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