Directed by David and Albert Maysles, Elen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
95 mins, 1975, 35 mm, Colour
INTRODUCED BY ALBERT MAYSLES
Grey Gardens is the unbelievable but true story of Mrs. Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie, the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Mother and daughter live in a world of their own behind the towering privets that surround their decaying 28-room East Hampton mansion known as “Grey Gardens,” a place so far gone that the local authorities once threatened to evict them for violating building and sanitation codes. The incident made national headlines — American royalty, living in squalor! For the Beales were nothing short of the upper crust. Mrs. Beale, a.k.a. “Big Edie,” was a born aristocrat, sister of “Black Jack” Bouvier, Jackie O’s father. “Little Edie” was an aspiring actress of striking beauty who put her New York life on hold to care for her mother – and never left her side again. Together they descended into a strange life of dependence and eccentricity that no one had ever shared until the Maysles arrived with their camera and tape recorder.
The Beales were ready for their close-ups. Little Edie — a still-attractive woman at 56 — parades about coquettishly in her trademark improvised turbans (her wildly original ensembles inspired a 9-page fashion spread in a 1998 issue of Harper’s Bazaar and a 1999 issue of Italian Vogue), reminisces about her brilliant past, still hoping that her Big Chance and Big Romance are just around the corner. Big Edie, trained soprano in her bohemian days, trills romantic songs of yesteryear in a slightly wobbly, but still rich voice. The women bicker, prattle, and flirt like characters out of Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill. The film is a bittersweet love story, a record of the powerful and complex relationship between mother and daughter.
– Marjorie Sweeney