Grey Gardens (1975)

grey gardens poster 1975 movie
9.0 Overall Score

You can't turn away

Feels exploitive

Movie Info

Movie Name: Grey Gardens

Studio: Portrait Films

Genre(s): Documentary

Release Date(s): Movie Release Date

MPAA Rating: PG

grey gardens big edie little edie

It’s so quiet and peaceful by the ocean…

In a dilapidated mansion beside the ocean in the Hamptons, Edith “Big Edie” Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale live an eccentric life.  As Grey Gardens falls down around them and raccoons eat the walls, Big Edie and Little Edie spend the time squabbling and questioning who is at fault in each other’s situations.  The aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy are about to famous…but it might not be for the right reasons.

Shot and directed by Albert and David Maysles (with Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer), Grey Garden is a documentary film.  The movie premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1975 and received a limited release in 1976.  It quickly gained a cult following and was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2010.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #123).

Grey Gardens is legendary.  It is one of those movies that you hear described and you think “it can’t be as bad as people say it was in that house”…and it really is.  The movie is a train wreck, but it isn’t in slow motion.  The train crashes into a brick wall from the start and the movie is the observance of the carnage.

grey gardens little edie flag dance

Patriotism at its greatest

You have to wonder what the Beales thought people would think of the movie.  The two women still put on airs at points in the course of the documentary, but they are living in squalor and (literally) falling out of their homemade clothes.  There are raccoons eating holes in the walls (which they feed) and cats peeing and pooping all over the house with little concern by Big Edie and Little Edie…it is like something that is inevitable rather than preventable.  It is horrendous.

The word eccentric is often thrown around in regards to the Beales, but the difference between eccentricity and mental illness usually involves money.  In many ways, the documentary feels exploitive because the Maysles brothers had to know that it was less of “this is how the other people live” and more of a sad look at the two women who have problems.  The film is presented without commentary which allows Big Edie and Little Edie to just talk themselves into a hole of contradictions.

grey gardens raccoons feeding walls

Got to keep the raccoons happy

It is in the contradictions that you see how their relationship works.  Both Edies blame each other for their situation which gives them some solace.  Big Edie would have been happy with her boyfriend but Little Edie didn’t like him.  Little Edie would have been a successful “discovered” woman in New York City but Big Edie interfered.  They each blame each other for their failures, and the malaise keeps them together.  Neither one likes the other to be happy but neither one also wants to see the other sad.

Grey Garden is a tricky documentary that has you watching in horror but also has you in a state of schadenfreude.  You can look at Big Edie and Little Edie and say “at least my life is better than their life” and consider how they had it all but squandered it.  The movie was turned into a stage musical in 2006, a TV movie in 2007 (with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore), and a stage play in 2008.  David and Albert Maysles released a follow-up feature in 2006 called The Beales of Grey Gardens with new footage from their shoot.

Related Links:

The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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