Grey Gardens (1975)
PG | 94 min
Directed by: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer
by Jason Koenigsberg
Grey Gardens is one of the most disturbing motion pictures I have ever seen. That may seem odd considering it’s a documentary about Jacqueline Kennedy’s wealthy and eccentric Aunt and cousin (both named Edith Beale) living in East Hampton, Long Island. An elderly mother and her middle-aged daughter who are multimillionaires and part of the Bouvier family fortune live like homeless paupers. They live in a 28-bedroom mansion yet only occupy one room for the majority of their time. Cats and raccoons that the daughter takes time out to feed occupy the rest of the house.
It is not disturbing in the sense that a psychological thriller will get under your skin or a horror movie will scare you, Grey Gardens made me feel extremely uncomfortable as I watched it. So much so that I wanted to walk away or turn it off just because it made me feel dirty and want to bathe after it was over.
This documentary is one of those movies that really has to be seen to be believed, a tragically funny and sad look at mental illness. I am in shock and awe that The Maysles Brothers (this was their follow up film to their highly successful 1970 Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter) and their crew were able to go in the house and stay as long as they did let alone film in those conditions for months. Their cinema verite style proves successful as we watch the mother and daughter develop as characters when the younger Edith really starts to play to the camera.
Grey Gardens offended my senses just seeing all the cat urine and feces all over the dilapidated house to the point where I was nauseas just looking at the screen sometimes. This simple movie really challenged my senses to continue watching, but once it was over you will feel pity for these women living in squalor and their sad lives.
Grey Gardens is part of the Criterion Collection and is available to stream on Hulu or just click below to watch the full length documentary.