Monday, April 20, 2009

Grey Gardens

I was recently reminded of the influential and landmark documentary Grey Gardens. HBO has produced a dramatized version that they aired for the first time this past Saturday night. In HBO’s version, Jessica Lang and Drew Barrymore teamed up to portray the mesmerizing mother/daughter relationship that existed between Edith Bouvier and Edith Bouvier Beale.

To be sure, both Big Edie and Little Edie were highly eccentric individuals. However, for me, it’s not their eccentricity or weirdness that makes them interesting. The qualities about the history of their lives together that I find most engaging and haunting are the ultra strong loyalty Little Edie felt toward her mother and the persistent reminder of what should have been for both women.

Edith Bouvier married a prosperous Wall Street attorney named Phelan Beale. When Little Edie was a child her parents divorced. Big Edie went to live in a 28 room mansion located in East Hampton, New York called Grey Gardens. A strangely befitting name given that the two women would spend the next twenty five years inhabiting a once glamorous structure that slowly withered with time until finally reaching a decrepitude and squalor severe enough to attract the attention of the Suffolk County Health Department who threatened to evict them if the structure wasn’t rehabilitated and the human and animal waste not cleaned up. Fortunately for the two women, Little Edie’s first cousin, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, stepped in and provided the funding necessary allowing the women to remain living in the house albeit in only slightly better conditions.

See this pioneering documentary produced by the Maysles brothers first hand. The Austin Public Library has both the VHS and DVD versions available for check out.


Anonymous said...

I have been curious about what Grey Gardens was about, but too lazy to look it up, so now I know thanks to today;s blog.

Anonymous said...

I saw Grey Gardens for the first time about a year ago. Nothing much happens, but you can't look away.