The case can be made that 1975’s GREY GARDENS (1975) pioneered the current spate of reality shows invading our airwaves. Many, too, cite the film as the very first cinema-verite “hit”, popular with audiences and critics alike when it was made, popular to this day. Famed documentarians David and Albert Maysles capture a story that is purely camp, as they lovingly capture the grandiose ambitions, dreams and philosophies of the two women at the film’s core. Camp is that special brand of humorous theatricality, a style popular with the gay community (the movie is referred to by many as Gay Gardens and was adapted into a Tony award-winning musical). The Maysles get the comedy of their subjects, yet, they never make the Beales look ridiculous; they see in these failed women, as do the women themselves, a dignity, a hope that is palpable. The Maysles capture perfectly the Beales’ eccentricities, making Big Edie and Little Edie seem neither precious nor twee. This is an intimate story, told with gentle sensitivity. When there are broad strokes to be made, the Beales make them. Underneath what might have become derisiveness toward these ladies, the Maysles instead unearth symbols of a collapsed and resurrected America. Know that what you are seeing is not the sleazy Kardashians lolling around in sweats fretting over brother, Rob’s latest weight gain — GREY GARDENS takes on a depth and a pathos seldom found in today’s schlocky t.v. reality circuses. This is documentary exalted to a level of art. Both this film and PBS’ series, An American Family, are the best dissections of family life the 1970s ever produced.
Tag: Albert Maysles
You’ve seen her winking down from ads for MAC Cosmetics and smiling back from the pages of the New York Times Sunday Style section, her eyes sparkling behind glasses that make Coke bottles look dainty. “Who is she?” you might have asked while watching Bill Cunningham New York, enamored by the tacky-chic pattern mixing and affable, no-nonsense presence of the self-described “geriatric starlet.” Iris Apfel seems to have come out of nowhere over the past decade, stepping out of her rarified Upper West Side coterie to reach a wider – yet still fashionable – audience. With IRIS, the late documentarian Albert Maysles pulls back the curtain to reveal the life and experiences of this nonagenarian iconoclast.
Written by Chris Kriofske
USA, 1975. 94 min Cast: Edith Bouvier Beale, Edie Beale; Cinematographer: Albert & David Maysles; Producers: Susan FrÃ¶mke, Albert & David Maysles; Directors: Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer
Despite the current ubiquity of tabloid and reality-based television, if youâ€™re viewing Grey Gardens for the first time, you really havenâ€™t seen anything quite like it. Even if youâ€™re familiar with the Maysles Brothersâ€™ other â€œdirect cinemaâ€ (cinema verite) documentaries, arguably none of their subjects are as memorably eccentric as 79 year-old Edith Bouvier Beale and her fiftysomething daughter, Edie.