“I only care about three things: the Catholic church, swimming, and dancing.”
Edith Beale and her daughter, “Little” Edie (Jacqueline Kennedy’s cousin), live together in a decaying East Hampton mansion known as Grey Gardens.
After the success of their documentary chronicling the Rolling Stones’ tragic Altamont Speedway concert (1970’s Gimme Shelter), the Maysles brothers set out to make a film about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s childhood — but their attention was diverted once they discovered the existence of Kennedy’s unbelievably eccentric aunt and cousin, “Big” and “Little” Edie Beale. The result was this beloved cult film, in which the Beales allow their quirky, unconventional existence together in a large decaying mansion to be recorded for the general public. Indeed, both Edies are exhibitionists, and seem to take genuine delight in “performing” for the camera: Big Edie considers herself a world-class singer, while Little Edie foster dreams of a dancing career, and we get to witness ample evidence of both their “talents”.
Viewers and critics often wonder whether the Beales — who come across as not-just-a-little unhinged here — were taken advantage of by the Maysles, but in truth, the Beales were flattered by the film, and enjoyed the notoriety it brought them; as a result of her newfound fame, Little Edie — always seeking the limelight — was even given the opportunity to perform in a nightclub. Diehard Beales fans have long championed this documentary, giving it automatic cult status, but it’s gained even more attention recently given the airing of an HBO special (starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore) which fills in the gaps of the Beales’ lives pre-squalor, and serves as an invaluable counterpart to this film; both are must-see.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Remarkably quirky “performances” by both Big and Little Edie
- Countless humorous scenes — such as when Little Edie describes her “costume for the day”
- Many bizarrely memorable quotes:
“He always compliments me on the way I do my corn.”
“Of course, I’m mad about animals, but raccoons and cats become a little bit boring.”
“You know, they can get you in East Hampton for wearing red shoes on a Thursday.”
Yes, as a certifiable cult favorite. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.