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The Maysles brothers should be ashamed of what they did. They profited
by exploiting the misery in which the Beales lived. There's no value in
this so called documentary.
Edith and Edie Beale were at the lowest point of their lives. The Maysles' kept showing how beautiful and full of potential they both were at one time in their lives, but for what purpose? The Beales had famous well-off relatives (though never really pointed out in the film.) So what? Lots of people on hard times have relatives that are much better off who would never lift a finger to help.
Edith and Edie lived in seclusion, removed from the rest of society, because they had little choice. They were just trying to hang on to a bit of the life they once had but would never regain. Why should this be considered to be a masterpiece in film making? It's nothing but a train wreck that everyone has slowed down for just to take a better look. It makes you feel dirty watching this thing through.
The review title is offensive? Well, you might have the same opinion if
you view the film with an analytical mind. I know and have read about
all the fans of this film that are fans of the Beale's as well. That is
all well and good, but its beside the point.
The Mayles Bros are not slouches and have a very good nack for cinematography and documentation (otherwise they would have not been involved in so many major documentaries). This film does itself justice by showing off that gift. What it doesn't do itself justice with is its exploitation of its subjects.
I know I won't get a lot of fans for saying such (true) statements, but it has to be said. Perhaps you'll understand my rational and frame of mind for my two controversial statements thus far by considering a few questions.
Why did the Maysles take footage of little Edie prancing around the house like a child? Why were these shots often in extreme close ups? Did these shots make you feel uncomfortable? Did the Beales seem in a clear frame of mind? Would you claim the Beales to be in a healthy mental condition? Were there shots of the Beales getting close to undressing or undressing? If the questions didn't get you thinking, my basic point is the Maysles knew better than to exploit a psychologically troubled mother and child. Framing it as an empathetic slice of life is a cover for compassion trolling and humiliation porn.
Excellent film showing the pathetic lives of two nutty old ladies. They couldn't live together, nor apart. Babbling constantly, sometimes at the same time, they hashed and re-hashed the past; going on and on about what coulda shoulda woulda. I found myself laughing at times, but mostly I was taken with how utterly sad and abandoned these two women were. See this one.
In the early 1970's socialite Lee Radziwell commissioned the Maysle
brothers to shoot a documentary on her life. During some preliminary
research they discovered the Beales, close relatives of both Lee and
her sister Jacqueline Onassis. "Big Edie" Beale and "Little Edie"
Beale, Jackie O's aunt and first cousin, respectively, were living in
seclusive squalor in a rat- and raccoon-infested, crumbling 28-room
mansion in East Hampton, New York named Grey Gardens. Over the years,
both mother and daughter had become increasingly cut off from the
world, living on a meager $300 a month (in one of the richest
neighborhoods in the world, no less), and supplementing this allowance
by selling off family valuables. The eccentric duo came within a hair's
breadth of eviction because the local board of health, after a series
of raids provoked by reprehending neighbors, threatened to demolish
their mansion. Fortunately family ties never unbind, as Jackie's hubby
came to the rescue with a $25,000 check for the cleanup and renovation
of the property.
This is just backstory, covered by the Maysles in the first five minutes by way of newspaper cutouts. The Maysles don't conduct any interviews with the Beales' neighbors, Jackie O, or Lee Radziwell (who, by the way, canceled that commission upon their discovery of her family secret). They spent just six weeks with the Beales, recording frequent spats between mother and daughter and reminiscences of society life and failed romances. The focus is largely trained on "Little Edie," who in younger years was a beautiful model wooed by some of the richest men in the world. The only people we see besides the two heroines are a young handyman named Jerry Torre whom "Little Edie" nicknames, after the Hawthorne novel, The Golden Faun (at one point, not knowing the Faun plays for the other team, she complains to her mother about his intentions); and a couple bewildered-looking people who come to Grey Gardens to celebrate "Big Edie's" birthday. But mostly it's just mother and daughter, lazing away in their otherworldly idyll.
A completely absorbing documentary. Albert Maysles later took another look at the Beales in The Beales of Grey Gardens, which was released in 2006 and made up entirely of unused footage that didn't make the cut the first time around.
I really can't remember who recommended this, but they said it was one
of their favorite films. It is certainly a strange one - like
rubbernecking at a highway accident.
Someone said that truth is stranger than fiction, and the truth here is something to see. I really can't understand how a fictionalized account of this documentary is to be released this year. How can you improve on this? The aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy remove themselves from New York Society and hide in the Hampton's. In the process they become recluses and what is best described as "crazy cat ladies." They would have stayed hidden had not the city move to condemn the property for the filth and the subsequent rescue by Jackie. This film was done after that rescue. All during, you couldn't help but think, "how bad was it before?" It's a look at high society from the darker side, and it is utterly fascinating.
The Maysels were enormously proud of the documentary "Grey Gardens" but
as a documentary of two mentally fey women of a wealthy socialite
family of note, it is a scathing critique of how some families fail to
care for their embarrassing odd members and would rather sweep them
under the carpet. Where are the "sane" members of the family who should
bring in the doctors who could have aided these women. Moreso, where is
the help to cook, clean, and tend the house that these sad ladies
ramble about in squalor? Clearly what the Maysels reveal is the mental
illness of the two co-dependent women who preen and prance for the
camera, as well as squabble, argue, and perform. Desperate for
attention, the younger Edie goes through enormous numbers of head
scarves and outfits for the camera, which is never not invisible
reflected in mirrors and on occasion in comments back with the
subjects. The elder Edie is lost in time, her belle of the ball days
gone with the wind, but nobody remembered to take home these two
decrepit prom queens. Young Edie talks to the camera all the more to
agitate the elder mother who becomes jealous at the attention her
daughter receives. The competition between mother and daughter is
obvious and sad.
If the Glass Menagerie was fiction, Gray Gardens is sadly factual as a documentary with qualifications. If someone had cared enough to get medical help for these women, it would have been humane. Sadly, they did not and only the Maysels caught the aftermath. Exploitation, yes, interesting, yes, and morbid, absolutely. The Beales were disposable women in a society that did not like to acknowledge the skeletons in the closets of the rich and famous. The Maysel Brothers dragged the Edies out of the closet and before the public which makes reality TV seem mild. That these women were the relatives of the ubber wealthy Jackie Kennedy Onassis makes their situation even more pathetic. O no, Jackie O, the Edies are spooking the horses.
Why should you watch this? There are certainly no reasons why you shouldn't watch it! Superbly and amusingly directed by Albert and David Maysles, Grey Gardens was originally intended to be a film on the gentrification of East Hampton, but it turned out to the brothers that it would be more interesting to produce a study on the eccentric life of the two Edith Bouvier Beales, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Their life was certainly an amusing one (Edith spent most of her day in bed singing operas, Edie performing pirouettes and majorette dances with their many cats, one was named Ted Z. Kennedy) The film is interesting because it is both funny and sad - Edith died shortly after the film was released (in February 1977) aged 82 after experiencing some of the fame that she and Edie received after the film (she danced and sang in a nightclub Edie Beale Jr was born in 1925 and is still living in Miami Beach.This film is both engaging and spellbounding.
If creepy-as-s**t "aristocratic" Americans attachment disorders were
McDonald's happy meals, Foxcatcher would be for the boys while Grey
Gardens would be for the girls... weird analogy, perhaps, until you
realize that one of the Bouvier/Beales (or both) knew the Duponts, and
one of their photos is pointed in the film out as being shot by those
other delightful bunch of blue bloods.
This is the original 'Hoarders', a reality show before that concept had polluted the TV airwaves, only here given a natural boost and clarity by the Maysles brothers - they're unmistakable as being part of this whole thing and even try to sing along once or twice in good favor with these wombats - and thus they are all-too human depictions of decay and disorder. You might almost think going on, as I did, mistakenly, that there may be some laughs to be had, whether at their expense (cruel, but it's part of the whole Schaudenfreude thing with reality TV) or with them (a few of the elder Edith's observations are funny in a scathing way).
But it's not really. This is a disturbing film precisely because the Maysles just show the place for how it is. And yet it also has some good historical context amid the mother and daughter squabbling (which makes up a good 55% of the film) - just one panning shot across the various homes along the Long Island sound, homes that were very likely at one time the sort one saw in Gatsby, speaks a lot of words.
It's meant to be uncomfortable many times, though there's a lot of tragedy in the air as well. 'Little Edie' may or may not be here against her will in a way; but then the questions arise, and one goes into another. One might ask, why doesn't she just leave? Well then, who would take care of her mother? Maybe it's her mother's 'time' to go to a "home" for the elderly - her eyesight is quite terrible, and though she has some of her marbles she spends much of her time singing (not terribly, it should be noted) to old show-tunes and petting and feeding the stray cats. But then why even keep the house at all? Memories, perhaps.
Or just the whole 'Old-Money' thing that came with being the cousin of the former wife of the president of the USA. Marriage is brought up a lot in the film - failed ones, (semi) successful ones, relationships that could have been that Little Edie resents her mother for, and her mother just thinks 'Eh, whatever'. In a way it's almost like the Maysles have no choice but NOT get in the way of these women. They only ask a question here and there to move a thought forward, not to press any point. Clearly, as one can see in Grey Gardens, these ladies can do that all on their own.
Of course the house itself is another character, a gangly and rancid thing in the midst of "All those leaves" (as Little Edie points out) looking like something that should at BEST be considered for a *good* cleaning and at worst should be burned to the ground (those cute raccoons in the attic optional). Ultimately, the power of this creepy saga of the underbelly of the upper class is sometimes very hard to watch or take in, but that's the idea. After five minutes you'll either know to go along for the other hour and a half with these pieces of work, or not. I did, and I'm glad I did - whether I return, I'm not sure.
You should see this unique film because you have never seen anything
like it before. A landmark documentary style film that is spellbinding
to watch, somewhat like watching a train wreck- you can't take your
eyes off of it. An eccentric mother and daughter, the Bouvier-Beales,
from an aristocratic French/American family, live in poverty in their
crumbling mansion with cats and raccoons. This is all true and shown in
stark reality with camera work and editing that is what I would
describe as effective in this case, although somewhat unorthodox.
It is difficult for me to perceive it as exploitive because the two women seem to enjoy having company and performing before the cameras, but the exploitive/invited paradox is one of this strange phenomenon's compelling aspects. Another factor complicating this aspect is that apparently it was their cousin, Lee Bouvier Radziwill, who initially contacted the film-makers although she later renounced the results. So the film crew did not just wander in; they were invited into the project (as it was originally conceived) by a responsible and highly-placed relative.
It is hard to put "Grey Gardens" into perspective, but consider that although these women both lived long lives (both lived to be over 80 years old) we are seeing their lives at their nadir. Would a film showing a short period of anyones's life at its absolute low point be flattering to that person?
One can only wonder what types of mental conditions or co-dependencies we may be observing while watching "Grey Gardens", and of course it is somewhat sad, but don't miss this film. You will probably never forget it.
In SALESMAN, we saw traveling salesmen going door to door peddling copies of The Big Book of Jewish Fairy Tales (as comedians Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Lewis Black call the bible); in GREY GARDENS, we see the Rich as they slowly rot away in their crumbling castles. This is rot as seen from the Inside. No, not "rot," per se; rather, DECOMPOSITION: slow dissolution. Slow decay, on full display. "You shouldn't have a contact with The Outside World," "Big Edie" warns her mostly bed-ridden mother before pirouetting around the house like the young child she proclaims herself to be (her obsession with her looks and her weight aren't necessarily strange, but this self-proclaimed "eternal youth" is). GREY GARDENS is often difficult to watch, simply because there's not a lot going on- and, if not for the family name, it's unlikely anyone would've EVER heard of these two recluses. I wasn't particularly moved by it, but I'm sure the late Shirley Jackson would've understood.
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