Monday, November 16, 2009

Grey Gardens (2009)

In 1975 Albert and David Maysles were filming a documentary about the life and family of Jackie-O when they caught wind of an aunt and cousin of hers who were allegedly living in an old estate in the East Hamptons that had fallen into absolute squallier. I don’t mean to imply they lived in a high end home that was dirty, I’m talking straight up, unfit for human habitation level nasty. Diseased animals running around, trees growing in the living room, windows broken, no heat or electricity. Needless to say, the Maysles were fascinated and created a documentary, Grey Gardens, that was so scandalous and popular it essentially created the modern form of the general audience documentary. It’s not just that these two ladies were living this way in this neighborhood, but that they were absolutely bizarre shut-in’s who, despite it being the mid-1970’s, acted like they were high society ladies from the 1930’s, talking about making it big some day as a soft shoe or cabaret act, though neither was anywhere near under 50 years old. They were clearly nuts, but their zeal and their childlike view of the world and society made them near and dear to the hearts of millions in the 70’s. 2009’s HBO film Grey Gardens recreates key moments from the documentary but also gives the audience a wider peak into the lives of these two gals. Director Michael Sucsy says his approach was to look at the documentary footage and try to discern what aspects of their story they seemed to think were important and fill those out with back story. So he would show the back story and then follow it with a recreation of the relevant bit from the doc. He clearly has a deep respect both for the women and for the original doc, as his recreation is painstakingly detailed. For example, the ‘perpetual bachelor’ music teacher, who only appears in a portion of the film, wears a diamond ring and the ring the actor is wearing in the movie is the actual ring the teacher used to wear. Some of the costumes worn by Drew Barrymore are the same pieces worn by little Edie. In other words, the production design is really great. That said the very best thing about this movie was Jessica Lange’s performance of big Edie. It is remarkable. In the featurette they put some of the documentary footage of Edie against footage of Jessica Lange’s portrayal thereof and it’s truly uncanny. She really nails this role and it’s almost scary how well she captured this bizarre woman. The Edie’s were unique, inspirational, sad, strange ladies who seemed just fine to be living in a setting a health inspector described as unfit even for animals and watching this replication and expansion of the amazing Maysles doc is certainly worth your time.


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