I’d always read about this 1975 Maysles Brothers cult documentary about a mother and daughter who live an eccentric lifestyle in the very upscale East Hamptons, NY but just got around to seeing it. Glad I did because it’s a strange and intimate portrait of two originals that are completely disconnected with the world around them.
The dilapidated mansion, dubbed Grey Gardens, is a squalid, falling down structure with holes in the walls, dirt everywhere, raccoons living in the attic (fed bread and cat food by Little Edie), numerous cats roaming the house and brush overtaking the outside. The doc opens with clippings from newspapers about it being declared off-limits to the Beales until it was cleaned up. They get to move back in but the house is still an utter mess.
The mostly bedridden “Big” Edie and her daughter “Little” Edie, spend ninety minutes in or outside the house in various states of argument, song or conversation. Both love every second of attention that the camera gives them, which makes me doubt the honesty in their actions at times. The Maysles film the goings on with a level of intimacy that draws the viewer into the oddball ramblings and philosophies of both Edies.
Grey Gardens is a strange little doc that reminds me of another documentary filmmaker—Errol Morris. This story is right up his alley but without the structured interviews he’s known for. The Maysles just try and capture the Beales roaming the house, engaging in odd conversations, as they are likely to do every single day.