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 Voyage, The 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.
2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II
If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:
- 2016: A journey through my neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in Boston.
- 2017: A spontaneous photograph each day.
- 2018: Watched and reviewed documentary movies.
And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:
- Book Reviews
- Movie Reviews
- Beer Reviews
- Music Reviews and Writing
- City Stories, expository writing about my experiences in various cities
And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.