In 1975, two filmmakers (and brothers) Albert and David Maysles visited The Hamptons in New York to film a documentary starring two of the most colorful, eccentric women the world has ever met. Also directed by Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, Grey Gardens is a documentary that tells the story of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie Bouvier Beale (“Big Edie” and “Little Edie”). The Beales, who were related to Jackie Kennedy Onassis, lived comfortable lives in high society until later events caused them to fall on difficult times (the film’s opening montage of newspaper clippings is both fascinating and sets up the film very well). Afterwards, the Beales continued to live in their stately Grey Gardens mansion even as wear and tear, weeds, cats and raccoons began to take over.
When one sees Gardens for the first time, her or she may express a shocked reaction about how these magnificent women could go from leading extravagent lives to somehow let things go to rot and still be happy. In a sense, what the Maysles Brothers seem to be doing is letting the Beales showcase their eccentric personalities to show that they are just as normal as anyone else in the world. In certain scenes “Little Edie” changes her wardrobe and often engages in conversations with “Big Edie” about the past and present — from Big Edie’s days as a singer to the men who proposed marriage to Little Edie but were turned down. Though some in the outside world probably didn’t seem to keen on the Beales’s way of life or the documentary, the rest of the world viewed the Beales not just as icons of a new wave of free-thinking people, but free-spirited people who enjoy life and being themselves.
Sadly, both of the Beales have passed on, but their enduring legacy will live on for future generations as they discover and enjoy this film. In fact, I consider Gardens to be the greatest — and my most favorite — documentary film of all time.