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Grey Gardens: The Criterion Collection

Intimate, sad, tender, and disturbing, the 1976 documentary Grey Gardens explores the bizarre mother/daughter relationship between Big and Little Edie Beale and the oddball world they created in their dilapidated East Hampton mansion. Filmed by Maysles brothers Albert and David (Gimme Shelter) in their self-described "direct cinema" approach, Albert considers the movie "a tribute to our confidence in them (the Beales) and their courage in allowing themselves to be exactly who they are." The film begins with a series of newspaper clippings describing the Beale's run-in with the local health department when it discovered the two women living in a house filled with garbage and cats. The media brings unwanted attention to bear on the Beales and their famous relatives — Big Edie is no less than the aunt of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Little Edie is Jackie's cousin. A series of unfortunate events — which include Mr. Beale's desertion of the family and the mismanagement of Big Edie's fortune — have left the mother and daughter living an isolated, impoverished existence, but with a flair and style that reflects their high-society origins. Both women had artistic ambitions — Big Edie, with her classically trained voice, hoped to becoming a popular singer, and Little Edie wanted to be a dancer. Sometimes loving and tender and sometimes vicious and vindictive, the Beales are, as one editor notes, "two women who are trapped and frustrated — they never got to live the lives they wanted to live." Instead they quarrel, fawn, flirt, and cavort in a fantasy world of their own creation. Are these women courageous nonconformists or bickering lunatics? Are the Maysles offering a loving (albeit eccentric) portrayal of a mother and daughter's unusual relationship or exploiting two crazy people from a famous family? The movie is a creepy yet captivating enigma that comes off like a Shaw play, while the movie's subjects (as suggested in the audio commentary) are like the fascinating tragic characters created by Tennessee Williams or Eugene O'Neill. Grey Gardens: The Criterion Collection presents the film on DVD in a new digital transfer (in the original full-frame 1.33:1) with audio in monaural Dolby Digital. The audio commentary by four of the filmmakers — Albert Maysles, Muffie Meyer, Ellen Hovde, and Susan Froemke — is extremely helpful in lending perspective to their experiences and motives when they made the film more a quarter-century ago. Also included are audio excerpts from a 1976 recorded interview with Little Edie Beale by Kathryn G. Graham for Interview magazine, interviews with fashion designers Todd Oldham and John Bartlett on the influence of the film, a photo gallery, and trailers. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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