GREY GARDENS (1975). Directed by Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer.
A look at the lives of elderly Edith Bouvier Beale and her 56-year-old daughter (pictured) "Little Edie," the aunt and cousin of former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, who live alone together in a ramshackle, mostly empty mansion in the Hamptons. This fascinating documentary starts slow, but builds in interest as it presents a warts-and-all portrait of these two women who clearly love each other but are also highly resentful of one another. That is the movie's strength, the way it illustrates the way people re-write their own histories and blame each other for their own failings. Mother Edith suggests that her husband never came back to her because her daughter would have moved out and never returned if he did, but it's more likely that the man had no intention of leaving his second wife and coming back to Edith. For her part, middle-aged Edie is furious because she feels she gave up her show business ambitions to return home and take care of her mother; in truth, she was probably just another show biz causality who had nowhere else to go. Although the film tries its level best to make the two seem as grotesque as possible, the main problem is that they just don't have the fortune of the Kennedys (albeit Edie seems slightly pixillated at times). Both mother and daughter emerge as likable people, and mother Edith is no dummy. Whether you see the women as freaks or human beings probably depends on your age and your level of empathy. A major flaw with the film is that we don't see or learn nearly enough about the women's early lives, especially Edith's career as a talented singer, which would have provided more balance.
Verdict: Unusual and absorbing. ***