Film / Grey Gardens

Staunch Characters.

Little Edie: Mother, you don't have enough clothes on.
Big Edie: Well, I'm going to get naked in just a minute, so you better watch out.
Little Edie: That's what I'm afraid of.
Big Edie: Yeah, for what, now why? I haven't got any warts on me.
Little Edie: But the movie, the movie!
Big Edie: I haven't got any warts on me!
Little Edie: That isn't the point, mother darling.

Grey Gardens is a 1975 Documentary focusing on two eccentric East Hampton recluses, near-bedridden Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale ("Big Edie"), and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale, (known as "Little Edie") as they live their lives in their decaying mansion. The duo were the respective aunt and first cousin of former U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and rubbed elbows with America's elite before their fall from grace, losing their fortune and ending up with only themselves and the house to hold onto. Once a stately society home, Grey Gardens is now crumbling, full of garbage, deprived of running water and infested with cats, raccoons and countless fleas, having been left totally neglected by the residents for well over 30 years.

Both Big and Little Edie were delighted to be the subject of Albert and David Maysles' film, which is made up of the two telling anecdotes about their unusual lives, performing for the camera, giving their opinions on various topics and going about their daily routines- be it putting together an outfit from random bits and pieces found around the house, or tipping a bag of stale Wonderbread out on the floor for the raccoons. The resulting film is strangely haunting, camp, funny and sad all at once.

Big Edie died in 1977 at the age of 81, four years after the film was shot and the year after Grey Gardens was released in theatres. Little Edie sold the house in 1979 to Washington Post owner Ben Bradlee and his wife Sally Quinn, on the condition that it not be torn down. The house was extensively remodeled and still stands today. Little Edie lived in New York City, Florida, and elsewhere before her death in Florida in 2002 at the age of 84.

HBO made a dramatic film about the Beales, also titled Grey Gardens starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. A Broadway musical of the same name also opened in 2006, winning a Tony award.

Grey Gardens contains examples of:

  • Age-Inappropriate Dress: What, a swimsuit and fishnet tights isn't a respectable outfit for someone pushing 60?
  • Bald Women: Little Edie, who always wears decorative scarves (sweaters or towels also do in a pinch) on her head.
  • Blithe Spirit
  • Blue Blood: The Beales come from one of the oldest, wealthiest families in America.
  • The Care Taker: Little Edie, who came to look after her mother and the house when nobody else would.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Both ladies, but Little Edie in particular.
  • Cloud Cuckoolanders Minder: Little Edie, despite being a Cloud Cuckoolander herself.
  • Cool Old Ladies
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Could be Ur-Example. A lot of the fictional cat ladies in various works have been inspired by the Beales. The scene where Big Edie matter-of-factly notes that one of the cats is urinating behind her portrait stands out.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Big Edie.
    Little Edie: You can't have your cake and eat it, too in life.
    Big Edie: Oh, yes, I did. I did, I had my cake, loved it, masticated it, chewed it and had everything I wanted.
  • Determinator: Big Edie's wish was to die in Grey Gardens, despite pressure to sell it due to lack of funds. She got her wish a year after the documentary was filmed.
  • The Dutiful Daughter: Little Edie sees herself this way.
  • Fan Disservice: Big Edie, 78 years old, exposing her breasts for the camera when the tank top that she probably should not be wearing slips off. Of course, as the whole film shows, Big Edie is now several decades past giving a crap.
  • Genki Girl: Little Edie, who has an astounding amount of vitality for a 57 year old.
  • Handy Man: "The Marble Faun", Jerry Torre, the teenaged handyman who is the only person who regulary visits the Beales. Little Edie thinks that Jerry wants sex with her and also is terrified at the prospect that he might move in and become a companion to Big Edie. Torre, who was gay, never did move into the house. He surfaced thirty-odd years later, working as a cab driver in New York City.
  • I Was Quite a Looker:
    • Little Edie's society nickname was "Body Beautiful Beale", and looking at her old photos, it's easy to see why.
    • In one scene she shows the filmmakers old photos of her modeling swimsuits, looking extremely attractive.
    • Big Edie was a lovely woman too, judging by her portraits.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The film does not provide a lot of explanation for how the Beales ended up in their condition, other than mentioning that Big Edie's husband had left her. Big Edie received child support but no alimony. Her father then cut her out of his will, except for a $65,000 trust which was out of her control, leaving her only $300 per month.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lovers
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Mother and daughter are this for each other.
  • Man Child: Little Edie is childlike to the point of some people suspecting arrested development.
  • Malaproper: Big Edie: "My body is a very precious place. It's concentrated ground."
  • My Beloved Smother: Big Edie. Any scenes Little Edie has on her own usually have her mother calling for her in the background.
  • Never Bareheaded: Little Edie, who, due to her baldness, wears a series of scarves throughout the movie, and a swimming cap when she goes swimming in the ocean.
  • Old Maid: Little Edie, who has conflicting feelings about the matter.
  • The Pig Pen:
    • Big Edie in particular, as she lays on a mattress covered in garbage and filth. Little Edie normally looks tidier and cleaner and keeps her side of their shared bedroom neater.
    • The filthy, dilapidated Grey Gardens is shown as it looked after Jackie Onassis paid to have it repaired and cleaned up.
  • Rummage Sale Reject: Little Edie, who somehow makes it work for her. Her style has inspired collections from Dior, Galliano and many others.
  • Trash of the Titans: Grey Gardens itself. The way it appears in the documentary was after a massive clean up, and it still qualifies!
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: For all their squabbling, they clearly adore one another.