Grey Gardens

Edith Bouvier Beale the younger and Edith Bouvier Beale the elder in Grey Gardens (dir. Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde, & Muffie Meyer, 1975).

My response to this documentary is almost too personal to be of any critical use: it's so much like something that escaped from my own past and my genetic memory that I don't really know what to do with the emotions it evokes in me. The fleabag cats, the grime, the broken class connections: it's all a little too familiar. My mother's family's blood wasn't quite as blue as Big and Little Edie Beale's, but watching this gave me a queasy sense of some of what she must have experienced in her New England girlhood. Little Edie is ripe material for ironic art crowd iconicity, which was the fate this film secured for her, but she's also a touching study in human coping mechanisms: a would-be poet, one of the things she clings to is language, grasping at words that frequently float out of her grasp like the scarf she reports having lost off the second-story deck into the thick woods surrounding her house. She struggles to recite Frost's "The Road Less Taken," wrangles with the words "memorabilia" and "dispassionate," and joins her mother in attempts to remember the lyrics to old songs. I don't know what else to say. See this movie.

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