©1976, a film by David and Albert Maysles, Elen Hovde,
Muffie Meyer, Susan Froemke,16mm, color, 94 mins.
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.
(text by Marjorie Sweeney)
"It's sad, it's funny, it's disturbing -- but Grey Gardens
reminds us that the camera can be used for dramatic
effect, even when the drama is rooted in real life."
- Arthur Knight
"I've seen Grey Gardens four times! I felt that I was
looking at two eccentric women and I was embarrassed,
but the fault was in me, because slowly but surely I was
opened to these women on any number of levels that
I'm still exploring." -- Judith Crist, 1974
"To my mother and me, Grey Gardens is a breakthrough
to something beautiful and precious called life."
-- Edie Beale, 1974