On The Beales of Grey Gardens

A follow-up 31 years later to Grey Gardens, The Beales of Grey Gardens, which is composed entirely of footage not used in the original documentary, was released in 2006. According to the CineHouse review:

This documentary film is the follow-up to the remarkable movie Grey Gardens (1975) that first brought the two Beale women to the attention of the world’s media. Big Edie (the mother) and Little Edie (the daughter) were the aunt and cousin respectively of Jackie Onassis, the widow of assassinated American President John F. Kennedy.
Mother and daughter lived together with about a million cats and a family of raccoons in Grey Gardens. This was a beautiful rundown old mansion by the sea in East Hampton, a place where I’m guessing you don’t get to live unless you’ve got more than a few shillings to rub together. Big Edie moved into the house in the ‘Twenties with her then husband, Phelan Beale, and she remained on there when they split up.
The two formerly wealthy and glamorous socialites hit the headlines in the ‘Seventies when it was revealed that their fabulous twenty-eight room mansion was a health hazard. Big Edie’s niece Jackie Onassis and her billionaire hubby Aristotle Onassis paid a hefty sum of money to clear the place of garbage and wildlife and fix it up with plumbing and a furnace and what-not.
Not long after the clean-up of Grey Gardens, the fascinating and almost shockingly intimate documentary film that detailed the two Edies’ lives for all and sundry to watch and comment upon was made by the Maysles Brothers.
In it, the eccentric-as-all-get-out mother and daughter talked easily and frankly about their former lives as rich socialites, their regrets about things left undone (like Little Edie’s career in showbiz), their beloved moggies and their handyman, a young (well, he was young in 1975…!) floppy-haired good-looking fellow called Jerry.
The Beales Of Grey Gardens isn’t a sequel to Grey Gardens as such in the sense that we’re not catching up with the Beale gals in a ‘Where are they now?’ kind of way. As a matter of fact, both ladies had sadly passed away by then. Rather, it’s another documentary comprised of unseen footage from the original film taken from the archives.
Apparently, there was enough material in these archives for a second generous helping of the two Edies, women of whom it’s been said that they would undoubtedly have their own reality television show if they were around today. I guess you could call them the original Kardashians…!
Little Edie in particular, a former fashion model in the ‘Forties, seems to have been born to prance and pout and pirouette in front of a camera. Yep, in both films she does both, haha. She also seems to be wearing a different costume in every scene. That’s because she is. I heard she became something of a fashion icon after the first film was released. She’s got an eye for throwing an outfit together all right.
She doesn’t always wear the outfits in the way they were meant to be worn, however. She often wears leggings or a cardie wrapped round her head which is shorn of all hair due to her alopecia. She’s pictured wearing a cardigan around her lower body as a skirt as well if I’m not mistaken. Little Edie has a huge collection of jazzy headscarves and terrific tops and shoes and coats and she’s hoarded the sartorial remnants of all her former glories.
I’ll never forget the footage of her picking up garbage (here in Ireland we call it rubbish…!) from around the front of the house dressed in a magnificent old fur coat with a big old tear under the right armpit. If I were in any way rich myself, I could well imagine being this eccentric and unconventional in my old age. Not that Little Edie’s old. She’s only fifty-six but she could pass for fifteen or even twenty years younger thanks to good bone structure, her fantastic figure and the no-doubt horrendously expensive dentistry she enjoyed/endured as a child…!
I cringed as Little Edie ineffectually tried to put out a fire that started in a corner of the house.
Even after the clear-out, their mansion was still filled with enough garbage (rubbish…!) to go up like a light at the drop of a match. I cringed also when I heard Little Edie’s views on which group of people should have been sent to fight Hitler in World War Two, and again when she wore a sort of net top without benefit of brassière to titillate the Maysles Brothers as they filmed. That was alarming…!
There’s not as much of Big Edie this time around, except for some rather bizarre footage of the old lady lying prone on the porch taking pictures of her two directors. That’s okay though, because her daughter Little Edie is a born performer as well as being infinitely watchable, even if the words coming out of her mouth are paranoid nonsense, which they possibly might be from time to time.
It’s interesting to see Little Edie hotly deny accusations of schizophrenia levelled at her by the press, when I’m sure that there were a fair few people watching either of the documentaries who must have thought she was completely and utterly for the birds. Yes, and her sweet old mum too!
I can’t really decide whether she’s to be admired for being a game old gal who literally doesn’t give a toss about what people think of her or pitied for living in what appears to be some kind of La-La Land. You guys can make up your own minds, of course, but I warn you, Little Edie’s charming and vivacious and extremely personable to watch so you’ll almost certainly be conflicted about it.

One thought on “On The Beales of Grey Gardens

  1. Pingback: On Grey Gardens | The Progressive Democrat

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