Grey Gardens: The Original

Pub date November 14, 2006
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

Staunch characters — S-T-A-U-N-C-H. That description applies to Grey Gardens devotees, who’ve found their unwavering dedication and commitment rewarded with a new Albert Maysles movie about the Edith Bouvier Beales. Still, another look at the original 1975 Grey Gardens will probably always be the best way to honor and commune with Big Edie and Little Edie — if ever a classic rewarded repeat viewings, it’s this one. All the Maysles brothers (Albert and the now-deceased David) had to do was bring the film. What they saw was amazing: Little Edie racing toward the camera — that final, perfect gentleman caller — in her best costume for the day; food and animals gathering around Big Edie’s throne room; a deep “sea of green” (Little Edie’s words) on the estate threatening to block out an ocean of blue. At one point Little Edie says she is “pulverized” by new things, but she doesn’t have to say that she’s buried alive by old ones. A single shot late in the movie turns a banister into her prison bars so effectively that Douglas Sirk would be jealous.
In recent years, Capturing the Friedmans and especially Tarnation have ventured into the same family-gone-wild domesticity as Grey Gardens, but neither comes close to matching its direct bravery or complex humanistic profundity. Today, as Drew Barrymore and others come a-calling with rip-off projects, the lesson that film and Broadway actors and producers should’ve learned from the Edies is right there in the lyrics of one of Big Edie’s favorite songs. Don’t throw bouquets at them, let them throw bouquets at you. That’s exactly what Little Edie — dressed in a Jackie O red ensemble (worn backward, of course) — literally did to the audience at the film’s premiere, and it’s what she and her mother metaphorically do to everyone who watches any minute of the movie, which immortalizes their one-of-a-kind offhand wit and poetry. When Little Edie heard that someone wanted to make a movie about her starring Julie Christie, she plunged deep into playing the role of her life — with acute, revelatory self-consciousness — for the Maysles brothers. When will Hollywood learn? (Johnny Ray Huston)