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Grey Gardens / The Beales of Grey Gardens (The Criterion Collection)

4.3 out of 5 stars 566 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?


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)

Special Features

  • New digital transfers
  • Disc One: Grey Gardens
  • 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 fashion designers Todd Oldham and John Bartlett on the continuing influence of Grey Gardens
  • Hundreds of behind-the-scenes photographs
  • Trailers
  • Filmographies
  • Booklet with an essay by writer Hilton Als
  • Disc Two: The Beales of Grey Gardens
  • New video introduction by Maysles
  • Booklet with a new essay by cultural critic Michael Musto

Product Details

  • Actors: Brooks Hyers, Edith Beale, Norman Peale
  • Directors: Albert Maysles
  • Producers: Albert Maysles, David Maysles
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Full Screen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Parental Guidance Suggested
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: December 5, 2006
  • Run Time: 185 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (566 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000E5LEVK
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,314 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Grey Gardens / The Beales of 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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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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