on 6 February 2004
This is a documentary about Edith Bovier Beale and her unmarried daughter, Little Edie (ironically aunt and cousin to Jackie Onassis)living in their gradually decaying home - an old estate in Easthampton, New York. Their house has been condemned by officials in Easthampton, and they live with cats and raccoons, but they don't give a damn about it. They are virtual recluses and fantastic eccentrics living in what many of us would find horrifyingly squalid conditions, yet these conditions merely provide a metaphor for the lost opportunities, and isolation that these women are subjected to as societal outcasts. It is hard to say whether this has happened through choice, but they are without doubt fantastical characters with whom I would have loved to have met.
Much of the film's pathos is magnified by the mother and daughter relationship which is compelling. Whilst we may feel sorry for each at times it is hard to see whether either has chosen their path in life or whether it has been layed out by circumstances. Little Edie, once a very intelligent and stunning young woman feels she has sacrificed her life and potential career as an entertainer, to look after her mother. Big Edie, also once a stunning woman, was disinherited due to her aspirations to become a singer, and after her divorce retreated to her sea-side estate to spend the rest of her days. Both women are extremely co-dependent, but in spite of their inherent needs to look after each other, Little Edie is the most resentful and happily reminds both her mother and the viewer of this. Both dominated by strict, critical male figures in their pasts, now enjoy a sense of freedom and independence in their solitude, even if it comes at the expense of their social inclusion.
This is a complex narrative, and it unfolds with intelligent, and often hilarious dialogue from both Big and Little Edie. Little Edie's improvised (due to their lack of money) fashion is truly "revolutionary" and has been copied and imitated by several designers. Her naivite at times, is fascinating especially when donning her outfits, she flirts with male onlookers! She proclaims herself to be the "greatest dancer in the world" yet alone in the house with her mother, their is no other audience for her to creatively conquer. We watch her, and we are captivated by her, and we accept what she tells us, because she is so emotive and honest.
This has to be one of the greatest films I have ever seen - one wouldn't think that you could capture such beauty, laughter and sadness in a documentary! The underlying truth of 'Grey Gardens' is that it highlights for the viewer the choices made or not made, both for us and by us.
When the money ran out Grey Gardens stuck out like a sore thumb and the house deteriorated behind thickets and vines. The Village of East Hampton wanted the Beales to clean house or move out. The Beales'sons wanted their mother and sister to move somewhere else. However, the Beale women defied all warnings and refused to leave the property under any threats. Jackie O and Lee Radzwill agreed to pay for repairs to bring the home up to code. All the trash was removed from the home, a new roof and ceiling was added, the heating system was restored, the water was running again in all of the bathrooms and sinks, and all the rooms were freshly painted and plastered. The kitchen featured brand new appliances The house was called Grey Gardens because of the color of the dunes, the cement garden walls, and the sea mist.
As witnessed in the Maysles documentary, the house soon reverted back to its former squalor. The making of Grey Gardens actually came about by accident. Impressed with their work, the Maysles were approached by Lee Radziwill and her sister, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, about doing a documentary about their lives growing up in the Bouvier family. Their family, of course, included their eccentric aunt and cousin in East Hampton.However,the Maysles brothers,proponents of `direct cinema', came to realize the charming and eccentric Beales would make better film subjects than Jackie and Lee.'Big Edie' and `Little Edie', mother and daughter,two fading aristocrats,were two recluses,living in a co-dependent relationship.Their relationship is a folie a deux. The two of them equally benefit or don't benefit from their relationship.
They bicker,they argue,they perform(sing or dance),they live in each others memories and reminiscences.They both need each other.The mother needs her daughter through fear of being alone,you also suspect `Littlle Edie' needs looking after.You suspect Edith has the upper hand in keeping `Little Edie' in her place.The Maysles brothers are seen to be present in the filming process,'Little Edie'flirts with David a lot.The film is entertainment as engagement,we are let in on the process. Direct cinema is a documentary film genre characterized initially by a desire to directly capture reality and represent it truthfully, and to question the relationship of reality with cinema. It is said to rely on an agreement among the filmmaker, subjects, and audience to act as if the presence of the camera does not (substantially) alter the recorded event.This documentary allows the viewer to be in a place they could never have been otherwise.
This is an astonishing study of two women who have retreated from the world into a time warp of their own,the line between past and present is very thin.They couldn't be themselves as Bouviers(one as a singer,the other as a dancer)due to the aristocratic code.As they are in a bind,the only way to escape it is by becoming recluses.By being filmed they lost their reclusion in a way totally acceptable to them,because they could be the singer and dancer they wanted to be.Edith is a remarkable singer and sings along to her own records.Little Edie,performing all the time,is keen to demonstrate her own dancing skills,also she has a striking fashion sense,fashioning headscarfs out of tea-shirts,putting dresses on upside down.There is a sense of the Great Gatsby,the Kennedy connection.As Fitzgerald said to Hemingway,the rich are different,yes, Hemingway said,they've got money. Aristocracy is a performance in the public eye.The need to perform.This remarkable film goes beyond the public lives into private worlds,the true lives of real personalities.The money has gone,when Mr Beale divorced Edith in 1946,she didn't get alimony,only child allowance.Her father cut her out of his will, resulting in squalor and almost total isolation.Jerry,the gardener and handyman is the `marble fawn',who lives in with the Beales. Little Edie is jealous of her mother's closeness to Jerry,and is paranoid he is after her body,thinks he's there for the long haul.She talks of all the men whom she could have married.
Grey Gardens is evidence of the Maysles'brothers uniqueness as portraitists,actively engaged by subjects who are not passive but active,shaping the film by bravely exposing their emotional trajectory.The Beales, born into a particular class at a particular time,are also selves they've created:a singer,a dancer,whose florid self-presentation cannot be eclipsed by hard times-so called real life.The Maysles are interested in recording the Beales' very real daily life-the ruined house(itself a character)crawling with cats and fleas,the mother and daughter quarrelling.What draws the viewer in are the stories around what we cannot see:Miss Beale lamenting the loss of a scarf,the suitors turned away,Mrs. Beale's infatuation for `Gould' the accompanist,a man of minor musical talent,the dream of New York on summer nights.Regrets and recriminations:the language of lovers,thr fabric of family life. We get a sense of passing time in a sea of leaves,the masks we all have.Time is cruel but can be overcome a bit by the insistence of self-expression(costing conventional life). The Maysles' deeply felt approach to these extraordinary women is fiercely intimate but not abusive,and richly human but not exploitative.
on 2 April 2008
Every year I check for a region 2 DVD of this film, so I'm thrilled it's finally here. You simply have to see this. It's useless me telling how special it just is, you have to see it for yourself.
The film's about an aunt and a niece of Jackie O. The former Mrs. Kennedy and the most glamorous first lady the US has ever had. They used to live a live of luxury and privilege themselves. When the filmcrew meets them they're living in the delapidated estate house Grey Gardens. And as you will see in the film, they have a world view of their own. But strangely enough, living there in a flea infested house, no one to keep them company but the cats, they are happy. In their own little world that is Grey Gardens, they seem perfectly content.
So, more than just a strange documentary, this is a beautiful, loving story of a girl (the daughter never really grew up) and her old mother, spending their days together... but that would be rather boring of course. Big Edie and Little Edie, as they're known, are also good for more than just one laugh!