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.
The house, Grey Gardens, was sold by Edith 'Little Edie' Bouvier Beale in 1979 to Benjamin C. Bradlee, former editor of the "Washington Post", and Sally Quinn. The pair completely restored the house (the sale agreement forbids razing the house), but the Bradleys only stay there in the month of August. During the rest of the year, the home is occupied by Frances Hayward. See more »
I saw this film a couple of weeks ago, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. It stars two spellbinding characters in what is unfortunately a mediocre documentary. To get the true story of the Beales, I had to wade through all of the DVD's bonus material and commentaries and search the web.
Although the Maysles and their fans (not to mention Edith and Edie themselves) bristle at the suggestion that this film is exploitative, this is exploitation in the truest sense of the word. Very little effort is every made to explain the Beales or how they came to the condition they were in - the Maysles approach seems to be to just turn the camera on and wait for Edith and Edie to say something outrageous. The sound, even on the Criterion re-release is poor and difficult to follow. Although I appreciate this film was made somewhat early in the history of documentary film, it's ironic to compare it to Geraldo Rivera's (!) far superior series on the sexual abuse of mentally retarded patients at Willowbrook State School in Staten Island from 1972, four years before Grey Gardens was shot.
To paraphrase a review in the New Yorker, there were many things Edith and Edie needed in their lives, and a documentary wasn't one of them.
As for Edith and Edie, the thing I kept thinking while watching the film was "where the hell is their family"? They were living in dangerous, unhealthy, unsafe conditions. How is it that Jackie O, married to one of the richest men on Earth (or the wealthy Bouvier family themselves) couldn't afford to get Edith and Edie a decent home? Or at the very least hire a part-time housekeeper or caregiver to come in and keep an eye on them both? It's shameful and a lasting disgrace to the entire Bouvier family.
Although this review may sound negative I would strongly recommend Grey Gardens to anyone who enjoys documentaries. Perhaps someday someone will come along and do a documentary about this documentary - bringing in the rich backstory (and afterstory) of the Beales and the whole subsection of Hamptons society in the 1970's.
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