Grey Gardens is the story of Edith and Edie Beale, relatives of Jackie Kennedy, who lived in the eponymous run down estate in the seventies. Albert and David Maysles got prtty unlimited access to cover the mother and daughter who inhabited the run-down mansion. These fallen socialites are practically the only characters in this cinema verite expose of their plight - and if I had to use one word to describe their story it would be depressing. Grey Gardens gives me the distinct sense that the color has drained from these womens' lives - hey themselves have become "gray."
The documentary was shot all in cinema verite format, and often I felt like a fly-on-the-wall in the middle of scenes I waned to have no knowledge of - kudos to the directors for gaining enough trust to get these shots - some are quite heartbreaking. The theme of the movie seems to be opportunities and youth lost - Little Edie consistently complains to her mother of how she ruined her opportunities for marriage, and Big Edie evaded comments about her failed marriage. The two women's frequent singing was also painful to watch, with Big Edie (a former professional singer) castigating Little Edie for her technical mistakes and belittling her singing ability while pining for her own lost ability. Nothing was particularly revolutionary on a technical level, but the cinema verite format really helped the Maysles create a sympathy between the viewers and the Beales. It left me feeling down and wishing the women had another chance to find their desires - especially Little Edie, who even in her fifties had a youthful spark and vivaciousness not completely quashed by being a virtual slave to her mother.