Edith ‘Little Edie’ Bouvier Beale: “No, I’m not ready; I have no makeup on… but things are getting better!” (one of the many choice quotes from 1975’s “Grey Gardens”).
For the sadistic movie-goer “Grey Gardens” might just be the epitome of schadenfreude: look, rejoice, at how Big and Little Edie Beale, a mother-and-daughter team of recluses living in a run-down mansion in East Hampton have turned out: they were once fine-looking, wealthy upper-class women related to Jackie Onassis but they’ve fallen hard–the improbable result of a complicated life stress, disease, and mental hang-ups.
“Gardens” is a delightful curio, but it’s also strangely moving. Big and Little Edie Beale are a couple of jolly bag ladies living at the end of the world which leaves you to wonder, how could it happen? But mostly, you oggle at their antics, in disbelief.
In 1974 Albert and David Maysles’s cameras were rolling as the two women, alternatively eccentric, confused, spaced-out and ecstatic, managed to thrive together amid the decay and disorder of their mansion with cats and visiting racoons. Big Edie and Little Edie sing, they dance, they reminisce and philosophize about their bright past for the cameras, and seem more politely surprised at their current state than bitter. This is a funny documentary until you realize that all the pleasure that Big Eddie derives is in tyrannizing Little Edie.
The restoration of “Grey Gardens” (Janus Films) was handled by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with the Academy Film Archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Opens in select theaters starting March 6th, starting at Film Forum in New York.