Grey Gardens – The Criterion Collection #123 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
November 30, 2013 by Dennis Amith
“Grey Gardens” is more than just a story of the Beale women who lived an unconventional life and lived in a broken down mansion. The story of the lives of these two women and where they came from is fascinating but also their mindset on life and society but most importantly, the bond between mother and daughter. “Grey Garden” is highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 1976, 2001 Maysles Films, Inc. 2013 The Criterion Collection
TITLE: Grey Gardens – The Criterion Collection #123
RELEASE OF FILM: 1976
DURATION: 94 Minutes
BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Colors, 1:31:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural, Subtitles: English SDH
COMPANY: Janus Films/Academy Film Archive/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: December 10, 2013
Directed by Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer
Produced by Albert Maysles, David Maysles
Associate Produced: Susan Froemke
Cinematography by Albert Maysles, David Myasles
Edited by Susan Froemke, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer
Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale
Edith Bouvier Beale
Norman Vincent Peale
Meet Big and Little Edie Beale: mother and daughter, high-society dropouts, and reclusive cousins of Jackie Onassis. The two manage to thrive together amid the decay and disorder of their East Hampton, New York, mansion, making for an eerily ramshackle echo of the American Camelot. An impossibly intimate portrait, this 1976 documentary by Albert and David Maysles, codirected by Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, quickly became a cult classic and established Little Edie as a fashion icon and philosopher queen. The Blu-ray edition features the 2006 follow-up to the film, The Beales of Grey Gardens, constructed from hours of extra footage in the filmmakers’ vaults.
In 1975, The Maysles brothers Albert and David went to create a documentary film on the lives of two reclusive socialites, mother Edith Beale known as “Big Edie” and her daughter with the same name known as “Little Beale”.
Directed by Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, what attracted people to the story is that Edith Beale is the cousin to former U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Little Edie was her first cousin.
And together, the two lived in “Grey Gardens”, a 28-room home that was once a home of extravagance, had become a home that played home to stray cats and racoons, infested by fleas, had no running water and the home was littered by garbage and smelled of cat urine.
The interested in Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale attracted many people who wondered how can someone related to Jacqueline Kennedy, who is the face of Camelot, live in a home that was so disgusting.
Needless to say, the attention led to an article in various publications including a cover story by “New York Magazine”, an article in the “National Enquirer” and despite the Suffolk County Health Department trying to inspect the home and many times the women had to face eviction, in 1972, their cousin Jacqueline Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill provided the financial support to repair the house to meet codes.
And this story is what caught the Maysles brothers attention and along with Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer and Susaen Froemke, offered both women $5,000 each to film their life ala Direct Cinema and to watch these two former socialites now living as recluse in a broken down home.
Which was surprising since Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale was once a well-known singer and singer to John “Black Jack” Bouvier, father to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Beale’s mother was the daughter of a wealthy paper manufacturer and a father who was an attorney and a Major in the Judge Advocate Corps. Bouvier married lawyer/financier Phelan Beale and after having a daughter and two sons, the couple purchased “Grey Gardens” in 1923 in East Hampton.
Edith divorced Phelan in 1931 and received no alimony but child support, while pursuing a music career. Despite being the daughter of Major Bouvier, because she dressed as an opera star at her son’s wedding, her father cut her out of her will, only leaving her with a trust of $65,000.
As for Little Edie, she became a clothes model at a young age and pursued the career with no success (and her mother starting to be concerned with money), Edie moved back home to take care of her mother and supposedly missing her big showbiz break by moving back to East Hampton.
And the experience of these two women of their past life and their current dysfunctional life is what people will get to see in the documentary “Grey Gardens”.
How Edith has come to depend on her daughter but also how daughter have come to depend on her mother, never to leave from “Grey Gardens” and to take care of her other for 25 years. The documentary discusses the men in their lives, men they could have been with, opportunities squandered and other frustrations that they have, but yet have been living this way for over 20 years.
The film was the day in the life of these two women and the film became a hit.
In 2001, The Criterion Collection released “Grey Gardens” on DVD, followed by a double DVD special edition which includes the 2006 film “The Beales of Grey Gardens” featuring footage not used in the original “Grey Gardens”.
In 2003, “Entertainment Weekly” named “Grey Gardens” as one of the “Top 50 Cult Movies of All Time”. A documentary about the documentary titled “Ghosts of Grey Gardens” by Liliana Greenfield-Sanders was made.
In 2006, the documentary received a full-length musical adaptation and was critically acclaimed. The following year, an HBO film titled “Grey Gardens” starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore was created and was about the life of Little Edie as a young woman and through the filming and premiere of the documentary.
In 2010, the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the Unite States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
And now in 2013, “Grey Gardens” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
The film has received a new 2K digital film restoration, approved by Albert Maysles and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The Criterion Collection release also includes the 2006 documentary “The Beales of Grey Gardens”.
“Grey Gardens – The Criterion Collection #123” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio). The film retains its grainy composure (moreso because it was shot in 16 mm) but looks clean without any specks or any major damage considering this film was shot in the ’70s with a 16 mm camera. As opposed to “The Beales of Grey Gardens” which does have a bit of damage but is included as a special feature on the Blu-ray release.
According to the Criterion Collection, “This new 2K digital restoration was undertaken in partnership with the Academy Film Archive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The original 16 mm A/B camera negative, held in the Academy’s collections, was used to create two separate 2K scans, of the A and B rolls, on a Lasergraphics film scanner. These were then assembled into a final master using the existing 35 mm blowup color reversal internegative (CRI) as a reference. In addition, a handful of shots in teh final master were replaced from the CRI. Thousand of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, and jitter were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management and flicker.
“Grey Gardens – The Criterion Collection #123” is presented in English LPCM 1.0 with intertitles. There is no pops or hiss that I heard during my viewing of the film. Music and sound effects sound very good via the single channel.
According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was restored by Audio Mechanics in Burbank, California, under the supervision of the Academy Film Archive, from an existing 16-bit transfer made from the original 3-track magnetic tracks. Crackle was attenuated and clicks, thumps, and dropouts manually removed using Sonic HD, while hiss and hum were reduced using Cedar. Sound editing and remastering were performed using Pro Tools HD”.
“Grey Gardens – The Criterion Collection #123″ comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Audio Commentary recorded for the Criterion Collection back in 2001 featuring Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer and Susan Froemke.
- The Beales of Grey Gardens – The 2006 1.5 hour sequel to “Grey Gardens” featuring footage not seen in the original cut. Plus an introduction by Albert Maysles that explains why a 2006 documentary was made.
- Audio Excerpts – (40:47) Featuring an interview with “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale by Kathryn G. Graham for “Interview Magazine” in April 1976.
- Interviews – Albert Maysles interviewed fashion designers Todd Oldham (5:23) and John Bartlett (5:23) about how “Grey Gardens” made an impact on them and on the design community.
- Trailers – Featuring the original theatrical trailer and TV spot for “Grey Gardens”.
- Behind-the Scene Photographs – Featuring images from the Bouvier Beale family album, behind-the-scenes images and images of the cats.
“Grey Gardens – The Criterion Collection #123″ comes with a four-fold insert with a short essay “Staunch Characters” by Hilton Als, stafff writer for the “New Yorker”.
The film that has inspired various plays, an HBO film, a documentary and even a fashion trend, the film has a cult following and for me, “Grey Gardens” is a film that I have enjoyed and have not grown tired, even watching it for over a dozen times since it was released by the Criterion Collection years ago.
What is it about the two Edie Bouvier Beales and their life story that fascinates me?
Perhaps because it was a film that caught me by surprise because these two women are related to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and the lives of mother and daughter would eventually fascinate you because this is one documentary that can’t even be scripted, because you never know what is going to come out of the mouths of these two women. In America, we have seen documentaries about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis during her Bouvier years, but this is the other side of the Bouvier family that not many people were familiar with until the documentary was released.
“Grey Gardens” is a documentary which gave the Maysles brothers (David and Albert) along with Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer and associate producer Susan Froemke, access to Edith Bouvier Beale. Big Edie and Little Edie, a mother and daughter that have the same name but yet are interesting and fascinating people.
The more you watch the film, you realize that these two women were brought up during a time where they were part of high society and were very involved. Big Edie, the mother was a well-known singer, while Little Edie was a model. Two women who appear to have had it all but then lost it all. But despite their social standing in their later years and their deplorable living conditions that had Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and family trying to do what they can to help them, it’s the history and lives of these two women that you will find so fascinating.
You can easily do your research on the Internet and see how these two looked when they were younger and both were absolutely beautiful but find many dedication sites and articles to the Beales. These women are loved by many and by watching “Grey Gardens”, you will find yourself captivated.
And when you think of the Bouvier name, especially because of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, you think of style and also part of you think of Camelot.
Unfortunately, for the Beale family, with Edith Beale’s divorce and not receiving much from her father, Major Bouvier after his death, all Edith Beale had was the “Grey Gardens”, a huge mansion, with a huge garden right near the sea. And whatever she owned at the time, from fancy clothes to antiques.
So, it’s rather sad in someway because these women came from a family of privilege, came from a good background especially financially from the ’20s through the early 40’s and then lost it all.
Edith Beale literally became a recluse and when she couldn’t afford her daughter’s career in New York and Florida, her daughter came back home to take care of her mother.
And when you see these photos of the two Edith Beale’s from the past, how can they let themselves go to live in a home that was broken down, became a sanctuary for stray cats who peed everywhere or raccoons that tore the house apart. They had no running water, so it made you wonder how these women washed their clothes or bathed, aside from Little Edie swimming in the ocean not far from their home.
But seeing Edie wearing a mink coat that was torn, a white hoodie with what looks like urine stains on it and possibly the most offensive visual was seeing the dirt and brown stained bed that both women slept on, it’s rather shocking.
But it appears that the women got used to their life as it was. They didn’t have much money to pay people to take care of the house or garden, most of the time you watched them eat, it was ice cream and salad on paper plates. But yet, these two women are strong, independent women who may not have much money now but doesn’t mean they are going to behave as if they are lower class.
And that is what makes this documentary so fascinating. Why do they behave the way they do even though they are no longer part of the upper class. And that is what the Maysles brothers Albert and David wanted to find out as they stayed with women for two months, living in the same conditions and also having to wear a flea collar while they shot a lot of footage of these women on film. So much footage that the Maysles released a second film titled “The Beales of Grey Gardens” which is included on this Blu-ray release.
And these women have a lot to say about their life and society. They may argue with each other but these women have no doubt a lot to say and what they have to say is what makes this film so delightful. The mother is a trained singer and is very picky in the way her daughter sings a song, so much to the point that if Little Edie sings it wrong, Big Edie will have plenty of bad things to say.
When Little Edie talks about all the chances she had to be with men, she blames her mother for squashing any relationships. But even mother has a lot to say about each men that tried to court her daughter.
While “Grey Gardens” focuses on both women and their views on their life and society, the second film “The Beales of Grey Gardens” goes into the life of Little Edie and how she loved being in front of the camera, to sing and dance and have fun with the two brothers. This extra footage goes into Little Edie’s thoughts of what she likes (or doesn’t like) about the new renovation of the house, the vines, the ocean nearby, going to church, Jerry and more!
Also, the 2006 documentary introduces us to painter/fortune teller Lois Wright who lived with the Beale’s back in 1975 and even kept a journal of her 13 months living at the home. It’s important to note that if one is interested in learning about what happened to the Beale’s after the Maysle’s stopped filming up to the passing of Big Edie, you will want to read Wright’s book “My Life at Grey Gardens: 13 Months and Beyond”. The insight provided in Wright’s book makes an excellent companion to these two films and also details things that you don’t see in the two films.
While it is never explained of why she wears a turban (wikipedia alludes to a skin disorder, while a relative claims that Little Edie’s hair had caught on fire), why she wears her skirts upside down or why she uses a magnifying glass to read, it’s probably best that we don’t know, as why people have loved “Grey Gardens” and the Beale’s is because they are the opposite of JFK/Jackie and Camelot, they are more like “Camelot” denied but yet, they accepted life and don’t care what other people think.
As for the Blu-ray release, the same content from the Criterion Content DVD box set is included with this release. Both films are included plus the audio interview for “Interview Magazine” with Little Edie plus the audio commentary with Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer and Susan Froemke, video interviews with fashion designers Todd Oldham and John Bartlett and more! With the only thing missing on this Blu-ray from the 2006 “Grey Gardens/The Beales of Grey Gardens” Criterion Collection DVD box set is the essay by “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto which was included as a quad-fold insert with “The Beales of Grey Gardens”.
Overall, “Grey Gardens” is more than just a story of the Beale women who lived an unconventional life and lived in a broken down mansion. The story of the lives of these two women and where they came from is fascinating but also their mindset on life and society but most importantly, the bond between mother and daughter.
“Grey Garden” is highly recommended!
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