Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens (Albert & David Maysles, 1976) [7]
Along with Crumb, this is one of the more interesting character study documentaries I've ever seen. But while Robert Crumb was an endearing in his eccentricities, I can't help but find "Big" and "Little" Edie Bouvier Beale not that likable. Their tendencies to shout over and at one another and constantly making efforts to show off for the Maysles tended to be grating for me. The Edies, aunt and cousin to Jackie Kennedy Onassis, live in squalor with cats and racoons in their dilapidated mansion in the Hamptons on Long Island. The woman live in their own little world, shut off from their rich neighbors, and the Maysles meet them head on in that bizarre little world. It's a world that is built almost entirely on the past, what happened to the past, and decisions missed and should have been made. Big Edie makes a point of saying how acclaimed a singer she used to be and how much she had until her husband divorced her. Little Edie was pretty much a Renaissance woman until having to move back out to Long Island to care for her mother, who she constantly threatens with leaving and heading back to New York. The woman bicker and fight over pretty absurd reasons, like the words to a song, and there never seems to be that many quiet moments between the two. To me, a lot of it feels like showing off too much for the cameras, as both Edies drag the Maysles into the film. This isn't a central theme but it is odd seeing how the Maysles are closely associated with the Cinema Verite movement. This familiarity is ultimately beneficial, as it gets to the sad exterior beneath these women. These were two women, from socially prominent families with extroverted personalities that for whatever reason withdrew from a world associated with glamour and money to share a dirty, run down mansion with racoons (the most humorous moment in the film). This preoccupation and sadness with the way things happened is shared by Little Edie at the end, one of the true moments of the film. Her aside to the camera that she should be in New York City, enjoying herself and life instead of where she is caring for her mother, shows her true feelings for the situation. The familial bonds are just too much for her to actually get up in do it. Beneath all the bickering, there's a deeper admiration for each other the Edies. It makes the film more than just a bizarre character piece.

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