In the early 1970s the Maysles Bros were already famous for their “Cinema Verite” classics ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘Don’t Look Back’.
While researching for a project they were about to do about the Bouvier family they came across a situation far more compelling.
Little Edie and Big Edie were direct relatives of the Bouviers, celebrated socialites of the 1930s who hung out with the Kennedy’s and the Broadway crowd, as they live in palatial surroundings.
The father’s fortune gone, they moved into the family home in Long Island, and as little Edie says “things sort of fell apart after Labor Day”
What actually happened next was to be the focus of the Maysles Bros documentary “Grey Gardens”, Widely considered one of the greatest documentaries of all time, it has become a cultural icon, a defining moment of the latter 20th Century and filmmaking in general.
You can’t just watch “Grey Gardens”- you are thrown up against a wall by it. The intial jolt of these 2 lost souls, so lovingly and non-judgementally filmed, never lets up. It will change you in the way all great art usually does.
The two Edies, one bedridden and the other hyper energetically mugging for the cameras, are so heart-wrenchingly real you can feel their sorrow and their joy- and ultimately their insanity as they fail to come to terms with the desperateness of their situation.
As vermin and feral cats defecate all over the mansion, and holes in the wall become bigger over time, we see two very sad yet two very much alive people, who are dealing with the situation the only way they know how.
Never having had to fend for themselves, they descend into a mutual state of hopeless decay- exactly like the mansion they live in does.
The documentary was made into a musical in 2007 and is also an HBO movie with career-defining performances by Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. The movie goes into much more background about their fall from grace, the reasons for their state in the documentary, and also their fate after the documentary was released.
I urge anyone who hasn’t to at least try to view it- I think you might not be able to turn away until the end and even then….
The full documentary is available on YouTube, this is a clip collection.