DVD/100 Mins/Documentary/Rated PG
I’m in love with this film. Possibly one of the most famous examples of “direct cinema”: where the camera is supposed to act like a fly on the wall and just observe. As famous as this film is, it’s definitely unusual enough to make our ISMN line-up.
If you haven’t heard of this film, it is a documentary about two of Jackie Kennedy’s relatives who were once rich high society socialites of Long Island, but found in the mid 1970’s living in squalor and near completely disconnected from the rest of the world around them.
Now living with a multitude of cats, and sometimes racoons and rats, this Mother and Daughter still act and seems as if the 1950’s, 60’s and even 70’s never happened - because they were never part of it!
In spite of their sad situation which conjures questions of mental dis-function and the loss and neglect of life opportunities, these women seem to be happy and at peace with their situation and you cannot help but be strangely charmed by their relationship and distinct personalities.
(Above: Edie Beal in the room of discarded empty cat food cans.)
The most eccentric of the two being “Little Edie Beal” who chose to stay at home with mother instead of having a life and family of her own. Little Edie inventively conjurers up her own outfits out of clothing she has probably owned since the 40’s. These outfits always centered around her head dress which often consist of wearing the neck of a sweater around her face to cover her condition of hair loss.
Both women are a fascinating character study, and you cannot help but but be fascinated by their companionship, even when they are getting on each other’s nerves. There are honestly and truly the items of a time warp, and you really do feel like you are watching people at home from the 1940’s who have traveled through time. Absolutely incredible.
My favorite scene by far, is seeing Little Edie being excited about finding a vinyl record of marching music and then performing a patriotic dance with the American Flag for the camera :) …that and footage of one the cats going to the bathroom behind Big Edie’s glamorous young portrait that’s leaning against a wall.
This movie is without beginning or end and is just a snapshot into the unique lives of two very eccentric and secluded people.
(Above: Outsider fan art?)
Some favorite online reviews:
Grey Gardens was riveting and almost unbelievable!, 8 September 1999
Author: sigis from Oklahoma City
We stumbled upon the documentary, Grey Gardens, last Sunday and got “sucked in” without warning. Everyone who entered the room became transfixed on the television and the haunting images of Edith and Edie who seemed to be living out their lives in practically one room of a large filthy mansion on the beach, eating ice cream and corn on the cob (which was cooked on the bedside table)—and the cat urinating on edith’s bed and her unbelievable words, “i thrive on it [the smell].” We had not seen the beginning and wondered what we were watching and how these aristocratic women managed to get in the position they were in. Spellbinding! a must see!!!!
Very Sad, Very Human, Oft Funny…but with a whiff of exploitation, 15 September 2003
Author: David (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Chapel Hill, NC, USA
I was speechless and devastated after my first viewing of this - many parts of GREY GARDENS are very funny and unbelievably surreal - documentary or not, this really gives Fellini or David Lynch a run for their money in the weirdsville sweepstakes. I kept focusing on how these women (who are clinically way beyond eccentric) reveal their own humanity in the most surprising of ways, and I wonder whether their retreat from the world was prompted by something beyond the stuffiness of life in the unreal blue-blood universe, perhaps some abuse, or perhaps simply a streak of defiance and rebellion that spiralled out of their control and took on a life of its’ own. This might be one of the greatest ever films that comes dangerously close to exploitation, without going completely over the edge - as the Edies do their thing, I kept noting things like the empty gin bottles in the rubble-strewn bedroom, cats urinating on the bed, racoons emerging from holes in the walls, and the final scene seemed incredibly sad - like a child’s birthday party gone seriously wrong. Very definitely worth seeing and seeking out - you’ll never forget it, but very disturbing.
The most beautiful, endearing eccentrics of all!, 20 April 2001 (Condensed)
Author: azeffer from Brooklyn
The first time I viewed Grey Gardens, I was as mesmerized as the other people who have written comments. So many elements of this film are fascinating, there are so many things going on there. The ultimate passive-aggresive relationship of the mother and daughter. So co-dependent. One moment Edie is blaming Edith for her loneliness, the next she is about to swim in the ocean and saying out loud how she hopes her mother does not pass on anytime soon, she would miss her. Yet one has to wonder if Edie really wanted to leave so badly, why didn’t she? Maybe Grey Gardens was where she most wanted to be after all.
Edie never leaves the home or rarely sees anyone, yet she still has the rich, white woman’s concern over her weight. It is hilarious to see her peering at the scale through binoculars. When you see pictures of the women as young beauties, it takes your breath away. Edie is still a beautiful woman, and her coquettish behavior at times makes her seem like a young lady.
The language is entirely witty and it is hilarious to see the two women go on and on.
The cats and racoons are a site to see, as is the faded mansion. A wonderful window into the world of two compelling characters, their lives, and their memories. Yes it is at times sad, but at the same time, these two are fabulous!
In 2006, Grey Gardens was adapted into a stage musical and in 2009 was remade as an HBO movie starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, which probably should’ve been shown on the big screen according to the rave reviews I’ve seen. I would be interested to see how their pasts have been depicted.
We’ve had a strange VHS dub of this film in the archive for the past decade or so. Last year I finally broke down and bought the Criterion release knowing that it was bound for ISMN in the new line-up.
I can’t wait to visit this film again :)
Bonus short film:
The Garden of Earthly Delights - By Stan Brakhage (1981)
DVD/3 Mins/Silent/Not Rated
Time: Thursday April 11th th @ 7:45 PM
Place: Art City Mansion in Springville
Lots of parking. New friends welcome :)
See you there!