Friday, February 12, 2010

Yes, Mother darling.

There's no way I can talk about one of these films before talking about the other, and there's no way you can watch one without needing to see the other. You must watch them in this order:

1. Grey Gardens is an amazing documentary created in 1975 about the estranged aunt and cousin of Jackie O. They have been living in squalor at their decaying hampton mansion. "Big Edie" Bouvier and "Little Edie" Bouvier were formally New York socialites. It is incredible to see these women, speaking with brahmin accents and surrounded by the remnants of a fabulous life. They have hermited themselves and you can see the isolation and heartbreaking desperation is leaking out of every crack of their carefully crafted facades. This is easily one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. The only loss is that the Maysles brothers didn't get there until after Jackie O had the house cleaned out and repaired as much as humanly possible. Prior to that, the house was apparently full of garbage and animals. Yet, the Edies' do their best to appear glamourous and classy, like two Norma Desmonds clinging desperately to the life they lost so many years ago.
While watching you will have to keep repeating to yourself: This is all real, these women aren't acting, this is who they are and how they live. You will also be wondering to yourself: How did this happen? How does one settle on living in such a way?

2. Grey Gardens is a dramatization that tries to answer those questions. This dramatization shows us the slow fall of the Edies. The plot structure is non-linear. We jump from the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, and finally, the '70s. We see the red flags popping up along the way: Little Edie has no interest in marrying but Big Edie won't let her leave home because of it, Big Edie has had servants her whole life and has no idea how to clean or take care of a large house, and so many more.
Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange give the performances of their careers in this movie. No matter how big the sobs or outlandish the behavior, because of the documentary we know this is not melodrama. This is how these women really were. Barrymore and Lange do them justice and humanize them. They have revived the spirits of these women perfectly. Big Edie and Little Edie sort of came off as pathetic Miss Havishams in the documentary. Here we see them as they truly were: Two women trapped in a relationship as toxic as their environment. They love each other deeply, but that is perhaps their greatest undoing. They love each other too much to say no and too much to leave or let go. You feel that love in the fantastic chemistry onscreen.
Every decade is created. The Edies' glory days are lush and luxuriouss, deeply saturated colors and rich texture. Their "current" conditions are dulled, dingy and gritty. The set dressings and costumes are impeccable. The commitment to re-creation here is really remarkable.

The documentary is the pre-cursor to the popular TV shows Hoarders and Obsessed. The dramatization is hopefully the precursor to many other wonderful biopics produced by HBO.


sami said...

I literally just watched that two nights ago (the newer Drew and Jessica version). The whole time all I could think about was if it took place today it would just be another episode of Hoarders.

Noel said...

I'm so glad you saw it! It was good to know that Little Edie did get to have some of her dreams come true.