A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Edith Bouvier Beale sits on her bed, wrapped in a housecoat, surrounded by cats, singing in a reverie: "Tea for two, and two for tea. . . ." And we wonder if it occurs to her that the song is the story of the last, long chapter of her life. For more than 20 years, she and her daughter, Edie, have lived together in a crumbling old mansion by the sea. They are surrounded on both sides by the summer homes of the wealthy - of people from their class -- but Grey Gardens stands in Gothic decay.
The house was beautiful once, and so were the Beales. They look through old scrapbooks, this woman of 82 and her 56-year-old daughter, and we see them when they were the cream of society. Edith on her wedding day. Edie modeling at a charity fashion show. Now a slow disintegration has set in; rooms of their mansion and areas of their lives have been closed off, one at a time, left to the forages of raccoons and memories.
Still, they've preserved a few things, while abandoning so much. They still have wit, style and what I would define as sanity. "Grey Gardens," one of the most haunting documentaries in a long time, preserves their strange existence, and we're pleased that it does. It expands our notions of the possibilities. It's about two classic eccentrics, two people who refuse to live the way they're supposed to, but by the film's end we see that they live fully, in ways of their own choosing.
The film was made almost by accident. Albert and David Maysles, the directors of such documentaries as "Salesman" and "Gimme Shelter," were approached, by the two Bouvier sisters, Jacqueline Onassis and Lee Radziwell. Would the Maysles like to make a movie about the Bouviers? They might. Jackie and Lee supplied them with information about the family, including their two reclusive cousins in East Hampton, NY The Maysles shot, on and off, for several months. Then they reviewed their footage and decided there wasn't a movie in Jackie and Lee - but there seemed to be one in Edith and Edie.