Last night, Manny and I watched Grey Gardens, a documentary filmed in 1975 about the aunt (Big Edie) and first cousin (Little Edie) of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and the house they live in.
The house, Grey Gardens, is a 28-room mansion in East Hampton, New York. But in 1975, and for several years prior and after, this was not just any mansion. This was a hulking grey monster floating in a tangled “sea of green,” weeds, ivy, and undergrowth that surrounded the house. There were raccoons living in the attic and holes in the walls. But nothing is more curious that the two women who live in the house.
Edith Bouvier Beale (Big Edie), once a “girl from a nice French family,” a graceful and aristocratic mother, a classically-trained singer, is, as shown in the film, an 80-year-old woman who eats liver pate, cooks corn on her bedside table, and never seems to wear enough clothing. Her daughter of the same name, Little Edie, was once the most beautiful debutante in the Hamptons. But somewhere between losing herself in her dream to become a Paramount film star and failing to find a suitable husband, Little Edie moved back in with her mother at Grey Gardens and began a very obvious decline in her mental stability. Her world is a grand delusion, and she still fancies herself to be a graceful dancer and breathtaking singer, though neither is true. Little Edie is the true epitome of eccentric character. She is always in full costume – complete with headscarves made from whatever fabric she can find lying about.
The film is captivating and fascinating, though just a bit slow. It also has some wonderfully quotable lines. I found a very good essay on the film and the characters here, if you’re interested.
There’s also a lovely song by Rufus Wainwright that was inspired by the film and is aptly titled “Grey Gardens.”