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Grey Gardens (1975)

By Adele Marley | Posted

Cinema verité trailblazers Albert and David Maysles' unsettling documentary about two reclusive, eccentric ex-socialites gone to seed inspires two curious impulses in the viewer. The first is party fever: You'll want to throw a lavish costume bash where all celebrants don garb similar to that worn by the film's "star"--frustrated middle-aged fashion plate Edith Beale Jr., who shares a decaying, cat- and racoon-infested East Hampton mansion (the titular Grey Gardens) with her mother, septuagenarian Edith Bouvier Beale (aunt to Jackie O). "Little Edie," as she's called, is a master of improvised couture, making regal headscarves from bath towels and fashioning smashing ensembles from rags. Well-toned, chatty, at once nutty and lucid, she's a stunner. Little Edie gave up her relatively jet-set existence to take care of her mother after Big Edie was abandoned by her husband in the 1950s; they spend most of the film camped out in a single room of their squalid 28-room estate, bickering and lamenting lost opportunities while stray cats relieve themselves behind priceless family portraits. (The house was declared a "health hazard" by local authorities--evidence, according to Little Edie, that she and her mother live in a "nasty Republican town.") This is where that second impulse comes in: Watching Grey Gardens, you'll be struck by the urge to start housecleaning. Pronto.

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