Grey Gardensrecommended viewing

Just watch it
★★★★★
Released: 
1976
Director: 
Albert & David Maysles
Starring: 
Edith Bouvier Beale, Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale
The Setup: 
Documentary about a mother and daughter, relatives of Jackie O, who live a bizarre secluded life in a house in the Hamptons that is crumbling around them.
Discussion: 

As I start to put together this website, I kind of struggle with movies that I obviously NEED to include, but don’t really fit comfortably into my initial categories. This is a fascinating documentary that really MUST be seen, and I guess fits into this website just because it is so very strange.

The mother in this movie is the aunt of Jackie Kennedy, later Jackie O. She is 78 lives with her daughter, 56, in a classic large house out in the Hamptons. They both grew up in wealth, but at some point the husband left. The daughter was very beautiful and looked to be a very promising debutante, and moved to NYC, but at some point her mother called her back to their house in the Hamptons, and she returned. The movie is also unclear on exactly what happened to the daughter in New York and the circumstances of her coming back.

What IS clear is that the woman, now 56, is plumb bonkers. She is always wearing these flat-out bizarre outfits that she incessantly refers to as her “costumes.” The only constant is that her head is always covered and she is always wearing the same brooch. But you’ll be looking at her like: “Is that a tablecloth she’s wearing? Does she have a SWEATER on her head?” And yeah, I think they are. She also continually dresses in an inappropriately sexual manner… fishnets, exposed breasts… it’s just shocking.

She vacillates between her regular everyday worries and fury and bitter remorse that her life is going to waste while she takes care of her mother in their house. She is utterly oblivious that it seems for the most part that her life is already long gone.

Then there’s the house. Apparently what drew the filmmakers to the house is that it was about to be condemned by the city. It had no electricity or running water. They forced the mother and daughter to have a few repairs made, but the place is still a disaster. They lay in beds with a bunch of crap just all over, multiple cats everywhere, cat turds on the floor, stains of indeterminate origin, eating pate and ice cream from their containers. Raccoons live in the walls and attic.

After about 30 minutes I was thinking, "So is the rest of this movie just going to be watching these women act crazier and still crazier?” But the filmmakers do a good job of slowly parsing out information and keeping viewers involved for the full 100 mintes. At first, Little Edie seems a bit bizarre and threatening, as any completely off her nut person would be, but soon after you understand the boundaries of her particular way, and can become very comfortable with it.

The film brings up a lot of conflicting feelings in the viewer, about what to think about the women, and what to think about the movie; is it exploiting these women? The mother and daughter were apparently very happy with the finished product and delighted to have it be seen. Either way, this is a fascinating and strangely moving documentary that anyone with a taste for the out-there should definitely make it a point to see.

Should you watch it: 

Definitely.