The Maysles brothers pay visits to Edith Bouvier Beale, nearing 80, and her daughter Edie. Reclusive, the pair live with cats and raccoons in Grey Gardens, a crumbling mansion in East Hampton. Edith is dry and quick-witted - a singer, married but later separated, a member of high society. Edie is voluble, dresses - as she puts it - for combat in tight ensembles that include scarves wrapped around her head. There are hints that Edie came home 24 years before to be cared for rather than to care for her mother. The women address the camera, talking over each other, moving from the present to events years before. They're odd, with flinty affection for each other. Written by
She was the girl who had everything - Money, good looks and social position. her mother - a classic Bouvier beauty. Now they are living amongst the souvenirs of their lives. In Grey Gardens. This is their story. A love story. Sort of. Hailed as one of the oddest, most beautiful films ever.
One question that must be asked immediately is: Would this film have been made if the women in it were not the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis?
The answer is: Probably not.
But, thankfully, they are (or were) the cousin and aunt of Jackie.
This documentary by the Maysles brothers on the existence (one could hardly call it a life) of Edith B. Beale, Jr., and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale (Edie), has the same appeal of a train wreck -- you don't want to look but you have to.
Big Edith and Little Edie live in a once magnificent mansion in East Hampton, New York, that is slowly decaying around them. The once beautiful gardens are now a jungle.
Magnificent oil painting lean against the wall (with cat feces on the floor behind them) and beautiful portraits of them as young women vie for space on the walls next to covers of old magazines.
Living alone together for many years has broken down many barriers between the two women but erected others.
Clothing is seems to be optional. Edie's favorite costume is a pair of shorts with panty hose pulled up over them and bits and pieces of cloth wrapped and pinned around her torso and head.
As Edith says "Edie is still beautiful at 56." And indeed she is. There are times when she is almost luminescent and both women show the beauty that once was there.
There is a constant undercurrent of sexual tension.
Their eating habits are (to be polite) strange. Ice cream spread on crackers. A dinner party for Edith's birthday of Wonder Bread sandwiches served on fine china with plastic utensils.
Time is irrelevant in their world; as Edie says "I don't have any clocks."
Their relationships with men are oh-so-strange.
Edie feels like Edith thwarted any of her attempts at happiness. She says "If you can't get a man to propose to you, you might as well be dead." To which Edith replies "I'll take a dog any day."
It is obvious that Edith doesn't see her role in Edie's lack of male companionship. Early in the film she states "France fell but Edie didn't.
Sometimes it is difficult to hear exactly what is being said. Both women talk at the same time and constantly contradict each other.
There is a strange relationship with animals throughout the film; Edie feeds the raccoons in the attic with Wonder Bread and cat food. The cats (and there are many of them) are everywhere.
At one point Edie declares "The hallmark of aristocracy is responsibility." But they seem to be unable to take responsibility for themselves.
This is a difficult film to watch but well worth the effort.
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