Monday, May 29, 2006

Grey Gardens

When I saw in the email announcing this movie that it was about part of the JFK clan, I nearly switched off, because I am so not interested. But I did manage to read on, to find out that this was about a very peculiar sub-part of that family: a mother and daughter (both called Edie Bouvior Beales) who had taken themselves away from society and not emerged from their property for 25+ years. For reasons we never learn, they decide to let the Maysles brothers in to film their so called life. It might have something to do with their house being condemned (leading to some very vitriolic commentary by mum in the letters to the editor column in the local press. Maybe, because they knew their time was coming to an end, a record was wanted.

The film certainly comes across as if the access granted to the camera was pretty open - it is a very candid film some have gone so far as to say it is exploiting them, but that's a pretty big call as it assumes they don't know for themselves what to allow. I think they were incrediby brave in letting this movie happen, showing the sadness that can come from forever living in the past, clinging to never acheivable dreams; saying they were exploited diminishes that. In a leter interview, little Edie says "Grey Gardens is a breakthrough to something beautiful and precious called life".

I don't actually know how long we spend in the house: one problem in making a film of this typpe, where there is no plot, no dramatic tension, nothing at all happening really, is deciding when to stop. There was a great line, towards the end, where little Edie says "after a while, cats and raccoons [their only long term companions] get a little boring" which seemed an ideal termination.

We see old photos of them both, they had bright futures, being privileged by their birth, but never got anywhere. The mother's story is a bit murky as to how she became becalmed in the house, a lost romance seems to be at the back of it. Little Edie went out into the world, tried her hand at dancing on Broadway and modelling, stuck it out for six years. About when she turned 30, as the story goes, she had to return home to look after her mum and has never left - but lack of professional success and not finding a man might have something to do with it. At 57, she's still pretty infantalised in terms of aspirations for a relationship, still has some sort of belief, but it must be the "right" man. Bickering about their past life and what might have been forms a large part of their daily activities.

Apart from that, little Edie still persists with her dancing, sunbathes, does very little to attend to the house (which is in a shocking state - not just messy and unclean but with a raccon family in the attic and multiple holes in the walls). It is apparently a 28 room mansion, but they only manage to fill a very limited space.
Maybe all the other rooms we don't see are filled up with Edie's fashion - she has a fairly unique style! In the opening scene, we see her wearing the clingy brown tuirtleneck and sheer nun's wimple on her head pictured to the left. She is also wearing a pair of sun pants pinned around her waist over tights of some sort, saying this is the costume she chose after having a big row with her mother, who had insisted on a kimono. She explains the practicality of her clothes: she doesn't like the look of a short skirt, but when it is worn over pants and/or stockings, why then the skirt can be removed and worn as a cape, with the stockings pulled up over the pants (or some such).

The movie is apparently a cult classic - #33 on an Entertainment Weekly top 50 classic cult movies: I'd not heard of it until the film society showing, but I can see its underground appeal, without necessarily wanting to join in on the various devout communities about the place devoted to the movie and its stars.

As a footnote: mum died soon after the movie, as she was already 87. Little Edie lived on, even moved out, into New York where she staged a few shows. She died, alone, in an apartment in Florida in 2002.


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