Grey Gardens [DVD] [NTSC]
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Contains the following Extras: Director-approved transfer, New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, ALBERT MAYSLES ON SALESMAN - An exclusive interview filmed in 2006 by Mark Rance with Al in NY. (30 minutes), KENNIE TURNER & ALBERT MAYSLES Q&A, 2005 - Filmed at Facets, Chicago, after a screening of the film, VINTAGE TRAILER, 40-page booklet with vintage articles, interviews, rare photography and new writinh.
This title is a multi-region NTSC DVD.
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How wrong I was.
It’s not often that I walk away from watching a documentary and days later I’m still thinking about it. Grey Gardens works on many levels with countless ideas and themes, not to mention some zinger lines, which have cemented themselves in modern popular culture.
Grey Gardens was directed by Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer and follows the day to day lives of Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale (Little Edie) who were part of the Upper Class, being the aunt and first council of the former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Following the separation between Bid Edie’s husband Phelan Beale the two women lived in the 28-bedroom mansion “Grey Gardens” for over 50 years. Becoming reclusive, the pair, who were running out of funds (I understand the Big Edie was given alimony of $300 a month to live on) the house run in disrepair and was overrun with cats, possums and raccoons. In the early 1970s the condition of the house made the national press, of which we see some of the articles in the opening shots of the film. Many observers will tell you that this is very much a superficial level in which the documentary sits, many viewers will as “How can they live like this?”, but this is very much high-level murk. What makes Grey Gardens so special are the infectious energy from Little Edie and the relationship she has with her mother.
This glimpse into their private lives is carefully restored from the original 16mm negative and whereas the grain from the film is very apparent, the restorers have done an exceptional job with the colour grading and the audio, which after all these years is a testament to the preservation of one of the best documentary films ever made.
During the documentary, the pair often recount their past histories of when they were not reclusive and this is where they sparkle, often with anecdotes of lost loves; love of a person, love of a talent, love of their previous appearance. You could argue that the film is, in some vague respect, about memory – but the bickering between mother and daughter is the same tone that I know I’ve experienced with my mother. Early in the film Little Edie wants to show the crew a photo of her mother “let me show them?”, “no!”. “let me show them?” The photo is snapped away and the cover rips. The ripping of the photograph cover is something that I found quick intriguing, the corner is simply dropped onto the bed and the event of the ripping is the not acknowledged, or perhaps normalised.
One of the things that hooked me into Grey Gardens is the voice of Little Edie, like looking into the eyes of James Dean, the voice draws me in; it’s hard to get distracted when Edie is talking about a blue scarf she dropped into the overgrown garden from the balcony, never to be seen again. The elongated a’s in her accent, and the melancholy as she speaks of men who her mother ‘sent away after 15 mins’, it’s as if Little Edie is hurting, but at the same time is bound by responsibility to her mother, and the stray animals that have taken up residence in the house. There are moments, where she talks about enjoying the colour of a room, or she’ll find a book and become fixated by it. There is a great essay on the criterion website where the writer, Hilton Als describes Grey Gardens as “evidence of Albert and David Maysles’s unique brilliance as portraitists, actively engaged by subjects who do not so much sit for them (the Beales have too much energy, wit, and imagination to be passive subjects) as help them shape the film by exposing their emotional trajectories.” And, I can’t put it better myself. Grey Gardens paints a detailed and poignant portrait of these two women and if I had the opportunity to get to know them, I would have loved to – I guess, in some way, I have got to know them.
The Criterion Collection also added a plethora of amazing extras, which are highlighted with a second feature “The Beales of Grey Gardens”, which was made in 2006 from unused footage. Some have described this piece as a sequel, but I don’t see this as a continuation of a narrative, but as a piece of film making that enriches the world that we come to know from the original. It’s sad that both Big and Little Edie had died by the time this was completed, in the interview that is also included on the bluray, Little Edie mentions that she was “overwhelmed” by the documentary, and she has many compliments (all justified in my opinion).
However, you don't have to know who these two women are, where they came from or ultimately what lead them to the life that you see on screen because their interactions with each, their daily routine's (singing, dancing, arguing, fueding, reminiscing and reconcilliation) are so completely engaging that you cannot help but be caught up in it all.
Little Edie demonstrates the most wonderful character and many of the films 'classic' moments come from her (such as the fabulous scene early on, where she explains her preference for a shirt over pants, with stockings, which can also be a cape!).
Despite the shocking conditions that the women live (ie. the delipidated, cat overrun 'Grey Gardens')and the fact that they both knew better lives, neither complains as they continue to enjoy recalling the old days, recanting stories to each and slinging classic one-liners!
I would highly recommend this DVD to anyone who enjoys an insight in to people and I guarantee that after watching these two ladies on screen that you will want, need, to find out more about them. THIS IS TOP VIEWING.
This is a facinating film. I loved it and I am still haunted by Little Edie. A beautiful, beautiful human story.
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