Monday, January 12, 2009

"Grey Gardens": The original 1975 docudrama rather resembles Warhol

On December 30, 2008, PBS Independent Lens had already aired an “Operation Filmmaker” about Michael Suczy’s remake (and a Broadway play from) this 1975 documentary, “Grey Gardens”, which I then rented. Now from Netflix and the Criterion Collection, it originally had been released in 1975 by Janus Films and Portrait Pictures, directed by Muffie Meyer, Ellen Hovde and Albert Maysles. I have a brief review of the PBS show here.

The original controversy was that the film was about the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Edith Bouvier Beale and “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, living in a squalid mansion in East Hampton, Long Island. (“Country Gardens” it is not.) The film opens with a series of newspaper clips showing how the health department had almost evicted them, before they cleaned up. And their housekeeping never is that good; their lively cats still prance in some squalor. Newspapers and junk abound in the home, but so does some pop art. In an interview of Little Edie accompanied by stills on the DVD, Edie says that over 12 agents came to her home and locked her out of the house and threatened them, and that this event almost killed her mother. She claims that they didn't have a valid search warrant. She doesn't know why the government was so nosey.

The film then more or less goes into reality mode, and flows rather like an Andy Warhol movie. (I wonder if the Warhol museum in Pittsburgh has shown it.) While the daughter says she moved in to care for her mother, the conversation makes it seem like the opposite is going on. Like, the daughter has trouble remembering dates. The elder lady is barking orders toward the end. She has a great line, "I've got to have some professional music" while the younger is singing a cappella (and not staying on pitch). At one point, the film shows them playing some old 78 breakable records. At the end, Little Edie says she is looking for people who write music herself, but that her mother doesn't like her friends, and owning the house, can keep them out. Little Edie says she gets bored with just her cats. In the DVD interview, Little Edie says she might have lived a better life had she been on her own in New York (without her mother to look after), yet the interviewer seems to believe otherwise.

I think I set foot in the Hamptons only once (no Gatsby life for me) when I lived in NYC in the 70s, stepping off the LIRR. I went to Montauk once, and Fire Island many times. I still remember the look of the beach houses, the vegetation, the sand art (well!) and, “the other”. I remember meeting a 30-something psychologist who, in the summer of 1978, was in the process of moving to the “good life” in LA, and would visit him later there. Those were days of naivite and innocence, and so much has happened since then.

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