So as promised in my last video, I want to take some time to delve into my own interests a bit more, not just as a transwoman (BTW, can I just randomly volunteer…every time I use that term I feel like one of the X-men…but like, one of the ones who never leaves the mansion), but as a person who has had 25 years to cultivate a garden (get it?) of interests and loves. One of those being a lifetime love of the arts in every form, literature, visual art and of course, film. So this is one of my very first reviews…or should I call it a ‘reflection?’ I have always fancied that term more than ‘review,’ which sounds so generic, so that’s what I’ll be using. ^_^ Ok, so let’s get on with this.
Firstly, I must admit my introduction to Grey Gardens was through RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 4. One of the contestants, the ever-creative Sharon Needles wore an ensemble that was according to both she and the judges, “evocative of Grey Gardens and the smell of cat piss” for a challenge that revolved around coming up with a look based on a fictitious magazine each contestant was assigned…and since Sharon Needles’ was a “Cat Fancy” type publication, the look matched up perfectly. Well…I knew as soon as I’d heard about a movie centered around cat ladies living in a dilapidated mansion that reeked of cat piss that I had to get my grubby little paws on it, not only because it sounded high-camp, which I love, but also because I’ve been raised by two cat ladies and had a harem of constantly-changing cats as companions throughout my life. So, it would be a bit of campy nostalgia only bigger and better.
To begin my experience, I perused the documentary, which was honestly quite disturbing. I mean that, however, in the best way possible. It was a ‘slice of life’ piece cut from a pie that had been left out of the fridge for too long and had grown mold. The dilapidated mansion covered with years of overgrown vines and garbage was such a poignant real-life metaphor for the past memories that seemed to have piled up and dominated the two Edie’s lives. The discordant arguments that the two used to fill the silence of each monotonous day were painful to listen to, not only because of the shrill over-lapping of the two women’s voices, but also because there was a genuine pain that resonated through each barb, each song and each dance. Big Edie, for me, seemed to be so utterly entwined with Grey Gardens itself that she came to personify the mansion and it’s ivy-like grip on Little Edie, whose concern for her mother, coupled probably with her own insecurities about performing , led her to remain voluntarily shackled to her home. For all the gloom of the picture, there were tiny rays of hilarity that shone through which I’m certain can be attributed to the lively personalities of the cast. To me the two Edies were timeless gems, perhaps a bit dimmer with the ebb and flow of time…but never, never dull. Some of my favorite lines, paraphrased… (from Big Edie) “He doesn’t want to sleep with you, not with an old person like you,” (about Little Edie’s concerns that their repairman wanted to sleep with her), “You guys need to save your, save that stuff because this is just…NUTS!!” (about a tantrum Little Edie was throwing) and of course, the incomparable Little Edie’s delightfully rambling monologue about her “costume of the day” and her “revolutionary look.”
After walking away from the documentary with an admiration and sympathy for the two Edie’s and their ruined state of affairs, I decide to survey the HBO film version starring Jessica Lange as Big Edie and Drew Barrymore as Little Edie. Above all, I must say how completely phenomenal I thought both women were in their respective roles. Appearance-wise they matched their targets perfectly and, coupled with the firm adoption of the real-life Edie’s mannerisms and dialogue, the illusion was an enthralling success. To me, the film clarified much of the name-dropping cacophony in the documentary between the mother and daughter which could become confusing at times due to the viewers uncertainty as to who “so-and-so” was. Interspersing parts of the faithfully re-enacted documentary with glimpses into the two Edie’s past was ingenious and perfectly punctuated the line Little Edie delivers in the documentary, “It’s awfully hard to see the line between past and present,” or something to that effect. In addition to the finely polished talent, the raw heart of the story was exacerbated in the fullest way possible and in concordance with the masterful soundtrack, brought a tender sadness to the surface…the best metaphor I can think of, though maudlin, is like tears about to well up in ones eyes…only to be constantly swept back by a sudden burst of singular wit from one of the two Edie’s, like for example, “I’ll be right down as soon as I put some lipstick on!” shouted in that marvelous New England accent or Little Edie’s exchange with Jackie O. “Is it true Jack Kennedy gave you gonorrhea?” The film was no better or worse than the documentary and it would be unfair to compare the two in any way…I will say, however, that each was the perfect accompaniment to the other, expanding upon a story with a sincere love at its root, that between mother and daughter, underneath the accumulated grit of life’s sometimes tragic experiences.
In conclusion, should you watch this movie? Hell yes you should! The documentary makes for an intriguing look into two multifaceted, sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious characters who seem stranger than fiction, in the most sterling way possible. The film was a stellar work of artistry that I recommend extremely highly especially to those who adore camp classics and over-the-top female characters like Norma Desmond from “Sunset Blvd.” or Blanche and Baby Jane Hudson from “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.” This is a masterpiece that I think anyone who appreciates superb story-telling will enjoy as evidenced by the Library of Congress’ decision to preserve it in the US National Film Registry as being culturally significant. So, as Little Edie would say, “Cement the deal already!” Get to watching!
Posted on April 27, 2012, in Film Reviews and tagged Big Edie, camp, Criterion Collection, Drew Barrymore, Edie Beales, film review, Grey Gardens, Jessica Lange, Little Edie, review, RPDR, Rupaul's Drag Race, Sharon Needles. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.