Grey Gardens
Directors: Albert Maysles,
David Maysles, Ellen Hovde,
Muffie Meyer & Susan Froemke

Directors: Albert Maysles,
David Maysles & Ellen Hovde

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

The documentary Grey Gardens (1975) haunted me long after viewing. A mother & daughter have become semi-recluses in their Hamptons beach mansion as the house crumbles around them. Their story would've been interesting even if they hadn't been relatives of the Jackie Kennedy Onasis, though this relationship does leave one to wonder why the Kennedys would permit them the "liberty" to live with racoons in a crumbling manse.

Grey GardensBut I actually admired their lives & in some part of me would even like to have racoons coming & going from the attic.

Over the years the documentary faded from memory & these two women, Big Edie & Little Edie, became increasingly eccentric.

When the classic documentary was released with new material on dvd, I was delighted to reaquaint myself with these women, & surprised to discover them a lot less eccentric than I'd romanticized them to be, which is not to deprive them of their distinct oddness.

Neighbors got tired of their unkempt lives & colluding in secret got the police to raid the place over alleged health concerns because the Edies kept too many cats. Really it was the unmowed lawn that bothered ritzy neighbors. They began threatening to condemn the building & remove the Edies from their home by main force.

This shocking injustice of evil intolerant neighbors led to embarrassment for Jackie O, who came belatedly to the rescue & sent moneys for repairs of not all but much of the house. It was after this point that these women became semi-reclusive, having a seriously good reason to carry a grudge against the unimaginative, vile, molesting townsfolk.

The Maysles brothers met them after they'd been cleaned up a bit, but still with racoons in the house. Fascinating that the documentarians (the Maysles brothers & their assistants) won the trust of these two women. But having won their way to the inside, they got the Edies to reminisce about their younger years. Little Edie especially comes off as an artistic mind happy & hopeful throughotu her young years, but increasingly "bent" as she grew older.

Remnants of their lives as society belles still showed in their faces & amidst their treasures. There is a vague sadness that once they were mighty, & now fallen. And yet their extreme independence of life & thinking, their ability to survive on their own odd terms, never ceased to look just a little endearing, slightly enviable, & rather heroic.

It's not a well made film by any means as it's very low budge. But the subject is mesmerizing, & the rough-hewn filmmaking kind of fits the wreck & decay of the subject. The camera's eye is not judgemental, & there's very little psychological probing here. Every viewer will have to bring their own attitude to attempt to understand who & what they see. The two Edies are permitted to reveal themselves as they are, not as the documentarians would reshape them.

Beales of Grey GardensAs a cult hit of the late 1970s when even small cities like Seattle Grey Gardens was one of the few documentaries possessed small independent repertoiry cinemas to show just such films, many young urban filmgoers would never forget Little Edie & Big Edie.

There were even young women who embraced Little Edie's fashion sense, rendering her a bit of a superheroine among punk rock girls.

Decades later, there would arise a musical stage version of their story that premiered on Broadway in 2006.

There'd been recurring rumors of a film adaptation that director Michael Sucsy shopped around for almost a decade before finally scoring funding, with Drew Barrymore & Jessica Lange slated to star. And books by Doug Wright & by Lois Wright spun out of these projects.

Timing was perfect for a dvd revival of the documentary itself, & Criterian leapt to the task in the best way. There are udates & extras galore. Albert Maysles put together a new documentary The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006) which had a limited release to big screens before going on the Critierian two-disc dvd release.

The second documentary is to great extent "just more of same," but gives a lot more of Little Edie including her wondrously impromptu fashion show, & it really hadn't dawned on me whie watching the original film that we never actually see her without one of her trademark head-dresses (frequently made out of shirts) or bathing cap. The Maysles themselves never saw her head bare, leaving us to forever wonder if she was bald as an egg or what.

The second film also shows more of their friendships so they seem just a tad less isolated than they seemed in the first film. I'd kind of expected to be bored by a series of outtakes that could add nothing to the classic original, but I was just as captivated by these wonderful women.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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