I wanted to watch the documentary before I see the new HBO film, Grey Gardens, which stars Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as Mother Edie ("Big Edie") and her daughter, Edie Bouvier Beale, who were aunt and cousin respectively to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. While these two actresses are brilliant casting (I haven't seen the film yet), I am a little hesitant now to watch the movie after seeing the brilliant original documentary. How can anyone play these ladies, Big and Little Edie, better than themselves?
[Added 7/12/09]: I also should mention the Broadway musical, Grey Gardens, which won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design, and its two stars Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson each won Tony Awards for their performances. The Broadway production closed on July 29, 2007. It was the first musical on Broadway ever to be adapted from a documentary. (wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_Gardens). While I didn't see this show I do have the cast recording and it is excellent. I particularly noticed the attention to the unique dialect of both Big and Little Edie which I thought translated quite well into a musical format.
Anyway this really is just a brilliant film in every way. It sort of transcends all genres of film: while it is a documentary it oftentimes seems like a play.
Here's the general story: two aging women, Big Edie and daughter, Edie, live in a rundown estate in East Hampton....really it is a state of complete, but elegant, dishabille and squalor. The two women are very eccentric. Very intelligent. Crazy really but in a wonderful way. The movie is a series of interviews and conversations with the two which at the same time highlights the completely rundown house. Edie sings, they both sing, they tell stories, they fight (a lot). It is one of the most fulfilling and captivating movies I have ever seen.
The two, daughter and mother, had been quite beautiful in the past. Young Edie had once been a model and an aspiring actress. Little Edie, born in 1917 and the eldest of ten grandchildren, was the family beauty, "surpassing even the dark charm of Jacqueline," according to their cousin John H. Davis, a professor who wrote a book about the Bouviers. (from New York magazine A "Return to Grey Gardens: There are still secrets left to tell about Little Edie Beale, including her diary. " By Gail Sheehy, Oct 29, 2006 http://nymag.com/arts/theater/features/23484/index1.html). In her younger days according to the article, "Edie dated Howard Hughes and likely had proposals from Joe Kennedy Jr. and J. Paul Getty, says Eva Beale, but always she sent her suitors away." (photo at right is from Everett Collection)
Little Edie constantly has her head covered throughout the film. She wears the most insane concoctions of clothing, brooches, scarves, shirts on her head, but they are absolutely gorgeous and chic, albeit bizarre, ensembles. According to Sheehy in her 2006 NewYork magazine article, Little Edie was bald because: "....cousin John told me about a summer afternoon when he watched Little Edie climb a catalpa tree outside Grey Gardens. She took out a lighter. He begged her not to do it. She set her hair ablaze. And in that act of self-immolation, she sealed her fate as a prisoner of the love of her mother."
The article in NewYork was written by Gail Sheehy who originally profiled the Beales for the cover story of the January 10, 1972 New York magazine. It was the magazine that caught the attention of the Maysles brothers. (the photo at left is from the New York article. Photo caption: Edith Bouvier Beale (Big Edie), David and Albert Maysles, and Edie Beale (Little Edie) during the filming of Grey Gardens; the author's New York Magazine cover story, January 10, 1972. (Photo: Everett Collection))
Here's a short clip (2min 46secs) from the film which I think captures the eccentricity. This segment features Little Edie Beale discussing "conformity" and East Hampton and the ultimate title of the original David and Albert Maysles documentary.
Here's one more short clip where you can see what I'm talking about Edie's fashion style. This is one of her more outrageous outfits ("the revolutionary costume" I think she calls it):
This movie is really just perfect. And the more background you read on the Beales the more intriguing and enigmatic their story. Here's just one interesting observation by Sheehy (I strongly recommend you read her article before you see the film.....the article is very fascinating http://nymag.com/arts/theater/features/23484/index1.html):
"Passed over by history, the ladies of Grey Gardens were left to the wreck of their lives until, sweet revenge! In the sixties, they were suddenly being indulged by a nervous White House. Secret Service cars were posted outside. As Davis recalls in his book, the Kennedy inauguration gave Little Edie a chance for her own theatrics. She reminded Joe Kennedy Sr. that she was once almost engaged to his firstborn son. And if Joe’s plane hadn’t gone down while he was bombing Nazis, 'she probably would have married him, and he would have become President instead of Jack and she would have become First Lady instead of Jackie!'"
And if you're interested in the HBO film with la Lange and la Barrymore here's the trailer *it's short too, only 2 minutes):