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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.
We stumbled upon the documentary, Grey Gardens, last Sunday and got "sucked in" without warning. Everyone who entered the room became transfixed on the television and the haunting images of Edith and Edie who seemed to be living out their lives in practically one room of a large filthy mansion on the beach, eating ice cream and corn on the cob (which was cooked on the bedside table)--and the cat urinating on edith's bed and her unbelievable words, "i thrive on it [the smell]." We had not seen the beginning and wondered what we were watching and how these aristocratic women managed to get in the position they were in. Spellbinding! a must see!!!!
I was speechless and devastated after my first viewing of this - many parts of GREY GARDENS are very funny and unbelievably surreal - documentary of not, this really gives Fellini or David Lynch a run for their money in the weirdsville sweepstakes. I kept focusing on how these women (who are clinically way beyond eccentric) reveal their own humanity in the most surprising of ways, and I wonder whether their retreat from the world was prompted by something beyond the stuffiness of life in the unreal blue-blood universe, perhaps some abuse, or perhaps simply a streak of defiance and rebellion that spiralled out of their control and took on a life of its' own. This might be one of the greatest ever films that comes dangerously close to exploitation, without going completely over the edge - as the Edies do their thing, I kept noting things like the empty gin bottles in the rubble-strewn bedroom, cats urinating on the bed, racoons emerging from holes in the walls, and the final scene seemed incredibly sad - like a child's birthday party gone seriously wrong. Very definitely worth seeing and seeking out - you'll never forget it, but very disturbing.
The first time I viewed Grey Gardens, I was as mesmerized as the other
people who have written comments. So many elements of this film are
fascinating, there are so many things going on there. The ultimate
passive-aggresive relationship of the mother and daughter. So co-dependent.
One moment Edie is blaming Edith for her loneliness, the next she is about
to swim in the ocean and saying out loud how she hopes her mother does not
pass on anytime soon, she would miss her. Yet one has to wonder if Edie
really wanted to leave so badly, why didn't she? Maybe Grey Gardens was
where she most wanted to be after all.
Edie never leaves the home or rarely sees anyone, yet she still has the rich, white woman's concern over her weight. It is hilarious to see her peering at the scale through binoculars. When you see pictures of the women as young beauties, it takes your breath away. Edie is still a beautiful woman, and her coquettish behavior at times makes her seem like a young lady.
The language is entirely witty and it is hilarious to see the two women go on and on. Favorite comments -
"France fell but Edie didn't. Edie never fell for anyone." "Why didn't you marry Getty?" "I'm a staunch character! S-T-A-U-N-C-H!" "Lost in a sea of green leaves. I'll never see that scarf again." "This is the revolutionary outfit." "You don't say luh-ove! You're not Czechoslovakian!" "All I need is to find this Libra man!"
The cats and racoons are a site to see, as is the faded mansion. A wonderful window into the world of two compelling characters, their lives, and their memories. Yes it is at times sad, but at the same time, these two are fabulous!
'Grey Gardens'(1975) is the Maysles' brothers bizarre documentary of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis'eccentric aunt and first cousin who live like pigs in a run down 28 room mansion on East Hampton, Long Island.'Big Edie' Bouvier Beale,78,witty and dry and her daughter, 'Little Edie' Beale,56,(emotionally about 13) a still beautiful woman who once had a promising future,live in isolation from the rest of the world except for their many cats and raccoons in the attic. They amuse themselves by bickering all day, listening to the radio or singing to each other(They dont even own a television) Their fall from society is amazing to learn of and the viewer is drawn to these two very special, although obviously, dysfunctional people.One of the better documentaries ever made and still a cult classic today.
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.
I found Grey Garden's to be a gripping film, an amazingly intimate
look at too eccentrics who basically have the right idea: forget
society and live in a delapidated house with no heating and a huge
brood of cats and raccoons, persuing their own interests rather
mundainly, all the while chattering at the camera.
Big Edie and Little Edie are the two crazies that the Mazles Bros.
have chosen to document. They seem like characters out of a
Fellini film, only stranger, if that makes any sense. Old Edie is
almost fully bedridden, a pile of papers, clothes and dirty dishes
growing around her. Little Edie is even more interesting. She
prances around the house, always wearing a baboushka-like
headdress around her head, completely covering her hair. We
never see her hair throughout the film, nor do we ever get a hint
that she still has much. At age fifty eight, though, she is still
beautiful and full of life.
In Grey Gardens, we get the sense that both of these women's
lives have become much less than what they once were. Little
Edie is probably the sadder of the two. While her mother, in her
earlier years, got married, made a family, lived luxuriously and
even made some recordings (the scene where, at 77, she sings
along with a recording of "Tea for Two" she made decades ago is
one of the films best scenes), Edie left her promicing career as a
model to take care of her ailing mother. At 58, she still longed to
find her prince charming. If anything Little Edie is still a little girl,
full of dreams of glamour and fame, and of domestic and romantic
bliss, that have yet to be fulfilled.
Highlights of the film include the opening moments, where Little
Edie explains her outfit to the camera, the "tea for two" sequence,
the birthday party, the climactic argument, the grocery deliver
scene, and the scene in the attic. The whole thing is incredibly
candid and unpretencious. And it's made all the more remarcable
since it's all real.
I suggest seeing Grey Gardens back-to-back with the Kenneth
Anger short Puce Moment. The Criterion DVD is $35.00, but it's
worth every penny.
Several years ago when I first watched "Grey Gardens" I remember laughing
and finding it hilarious camp. Years later I still laugh out loud when I
watch it, but after many viewings I've come to see the beauty in the
strange, twisted relationship between the inseparable "Big" Edith Bouvier
Beale and her daughter "Little" Edith Bouvier Beale.
Mother and daughter living together in their decaying 28 room East Hampton mansion add a whole new meaning to the term "Shabby Chic". With innumerable cats, raccoons and opossums as roommates this Aunt and Niece of Jackie O. allowed filmmakers Albert and David Maysles into their mansion to film them living life day to day. The result is a hilarious, beautiful, sad and moving account of true love and anarchy rule.
The relationship between Big and Little Edie is a testament to the unbreakable bonds of love. And their lives an example of drive, determination and free-will. This movie has more to recommend it than I can put down into words. It is a rare experience that you must see for yourself.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This documentary follows the lives of Big and Little Edie Beale, a
mother and daughter, who lived as recluses in their family mansion in
East Hampton, NY from the mid-50s through the late 70s. By the time the
filmmakers find them, the mansion is falling apart, and the women, one
78 and the other 56, share a squalid room. The older Edie Beale is the
aunt of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and the younger is her first cousin. The
women were originally going to be evicted from the house due to its
decrepit condition, but Jackie sent them money for repairs so they
could keep living there.
At times this movie can seem exploitative, as neither woman seems in the best of mental health, but at other times, the movie is hard to look away from. "Little" Edie blames her mother for her current state, and her mother fires back that Edie was never going to be the success she thought she was. "Little" Edie often seems trapped in the past, focused on choices she made decades ago, and loves showing off pictures from her youth, where she clearly was a beautiful debutante. Her mother seems more resigned to her fate, to live out the rest of her life in terrible conditions. There are definite hints of the glamorous life both women once lead, from the pictures that show a happy family, to the grand portrait of the older Edie next to her bed. From what we see of the house, most of the rooms in it are empty, the walls are cracking and falling apart, and "Little" Edie leaves food in the attic for the racoons to feast on. And of course there are numerous cats running around.
At its heart, this documentary is incredibly sad. While neither woman seems particularly depressed by their lot in life, the squalor they live in is utterly awful. It's not particularly clear if there is even running water in the house, and you get the impression that they have essentially been abandoned by their family.
However, as a documentary, the film is a wonder to behold, and is highly recommended.
This is why i so love this website ! I saw this film in the 1980's on
British television. Over the years it is one i have wished i knew more
about as it has stayed with me as one of the single most extraordinary
things i have ever seen in my life. With barely a few key words to
remember it by, i traced the film here, and much information, including
the fact it's about to become an off-Broadway musical !
Interestingly, unlike the previous comment maker, i do not remember finding this film sad, or exploitative. On the contrary, the extraordinary relationship between the mother and daughter stuck in the mind as a testimony of great strength, honour and dignity. Ironic you may think, considering the squalor of their lives. Maybe it's because i live in Britain, where fading grandeur has an established language in the lives of old money, where squalor is often tolerated as evidence of good breeding; I saw it as a rare and unique portrayal of enormous spirit, deep and profound humour, whose utterly fragile and delicately balanced fabric gave it poise and respect. In a way i was sorry to see it being discussed as a 'cult'. Over the years, as it faded in my mind, it shone the brightest, above all others as a one off brilliant & outstanding televisual experience. It was such a deeply private expose, it seems odd to think of it becoming so public as to be a New York musical. But perhaps somewhere, the daughter will be amused by such an outcome. It is she who will have the last laugh maybe..(They made a musical out of her before you Jackie O' )
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