Movie Review: Grey Gardens (1975) #AtoZChallenge

This is my entry for “G” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “G” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Galapagos: The Enchanted VoyageThe Gnomist, Gimme Shelter, and Goldman Sachs: The Bank That Rules the World.

Title: Grey Gardens
Release Date: September 27, 1975
Director: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, and Muffie Meyer
Production Company: Portrait Films

Grey Gardens is a legendary documentary with a cult following, particularly among gay men.  I’m not sure why it’s so beloved as I found it depressing and somewhat exploitative.  In a way it uses the template for reality television shows decades before that genre came into being.  That’s not to say it’s a bad film, it’s an excellent production, but it leaves me feeling cold and a bit dirty for watching it.

Grey Gardens is the name of an estate in the wealthy summer vacation community of East Hampton, New York. From the 1950s to 1970s, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) lived there  with her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale (Little Edie) in virtual isolation from the high society of New York.  The duo’s declining health and income lead to the house falling into disrepair, with hoarding and numerous pet cats and wild animals living in the house adding to the squalor.  In the early 70s, the local health board threatened to evict the pair if repairs weren’t made.  Luckily, Big Edie’s nieces Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill chipped in for repairs.

And that’s where the Maysles’ brothers come in.  Working on a project about the Bouvier sisters, they learned about these cousins at Grey Gardens and decided the Beales would make a better movie.  Albert and David Maysles are somewhat characters in their own right as Edith and Edie frequently converse with them, but the Beales also spend a lot of time going about their business as the cameras roll. Little Edie, like many reality tv stars to come, seems to perform for the camera as she waxes on her abortive career as a dancer and a model.  Big Edie is quick with a quip, especially to cut Little Edie down.  She was an entertainer too, a singer, and takes the opportunity to sing a few songs although she seems less concerned about playing for the camera.  And they argue, oh do they argue.  In one of many WTF moments, Little Edie sets down cat food and Wonder Bread to feed the wild raccoons living in the attic.

Little Edie seems to resent having to care for her mother who can be very manipulative.  The younger Beale speaks of opportunities she had to marry notoriously wealthy men, which may or may not be true.  But whether she is indeed angry with her mother or just angry at her lost her opportunities, she seems a very sad person, and I found it heartbreaking to watch.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

Depression, manipulation, hoarding, and other mental illnesses can be considered charming and eccentric if relatives of the Kennedys are involved.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Its rare for a documentary to get a remake, but the Grey Gardens story was retold in a 2009 tv movie staring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange.  While I love those actors, I think I’ve had my fill of the Beales’ sad story, but you might enjoy comparing and contrasting.

.Source:  DVD

Rating: **1/2

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

A Song and a Story: “Ghost Town” #AtoZChallenge

Today’s tune is one I discovered serendipitously and seek out to make it mine.  It’s by the UK 2-Tone ska band The Specials and it’s called:

Ghost Town

I spent a portion of my teenage years living in the past, taking deep dives into Classic Rock from the 1960s, and avoiding anything contemporary.  By my junior year though, I was ready to once again be a man of my times, and since some of my good friends listened to what we were still calling “New Wave” at the time, I started listening to their favorite radio station, WDRE.  Broadcasting from Long Island, the radio signals carried WDRE across the Sound to eager young Connecticutians seeking refuge from Top 40 and Classic Rock.  WDRE refered to their format simply as “Modern Rock,” and the bands they played included Erasure, Depeche Mode, Morrissey (so much Morrissey), New Order, Midnight Oil, Jane’s Addiction, R.E.M., The Replacements, and They Might Be Giants.  No one would think  of any of these bands as obscure today, but in 1990 they were hard to acess anywhere else.

So there I was laying on my bed one sunny afternoon listening to WDRE, and the DJ played a song by a band I’d never heard before that blew my mind.  It was “Ghost Town” by The Specials. I HAD to have this song and since we didn’t have the World Wide Web back then and other resources were limited, it meant trying my luck at the local record store.  I checked under “Rock” – no Specials.  I checked under “Reggae” – no specials.  I check under “World Music” – no Specials.  Finally, on a whim, I decided to look in the racks of compilations, and stumbled on a tape called This Are Two-Tone. It had my song by The Specials and many more from UK bands that played a music called ska.  And it turns out, it wasn’t anything new. I was about a decade late.

For the next several years, well into my college days, I accumulated ska music – the original Jamaica ska, 2 Tone Ska from the UK in the 70s & 80s, and some more contemporary stuff like Fishbone and Bim Skala Bim. Oddly enough my enthusiasm for ska music was tempered the fact that by the mid-1990s, ska had widespread popularity in the United States.  Except this Third Wave ska (as it was called) sounded more like a bunch of white bros who liked to go to the beach and get drunk than the ska I loved.

Returning to “Ghost Town,” it’s still a remarkable song.  The spooky vocal effects make it a popular Halloween track.  But listen to the lyrics and its a stark depiction of the poverty, decay, and desolation of England under Thatcherism.  And that trombone solo by Rico slays me every time.  It’s still blows me away to this day.

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – A Song and a Story

A: Always on My Mind
B: Baby Come Back and Baker Street
C: Cheek to Cheek
D: Don’t Worry, Be Happy and Doctor Jones
E: Everyday Sunshine
F: Fly Me to the Moon

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.