The dyspeptic, codependent mother-daughter conundrum that is found in Grey Gardens has been fascinating viewers for almost four decades. In addition to the Maysles’ 1976 documentary film and its 2006 follow-up The Beales of Grey Gardens, there have been the Tony-winning Broadway musical version of their saga and the Emmy-winning TV-movie biography of the baffling, battling, beatific Beales. It goes without saying that these two simultaneously funny and sad, angry and contented ladies occupy their own special niches in cinematic heaven along with all their cats, raccoons, and a lifetime of memories they’ve left behind for others to savor.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 34 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 12/10/2013
After earning newspaper headlines as the impoverished relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis living in squalor in East Hampton, New York, filmmakers David and Albert Maysles brought their cameras to the dilapidated mansion of the once prosperous Beales to film the two remaining occupants: seventy-eight year old “Big” Edie Bouvier Beale and her fifty-six year old daughter “Little” Edie Beale. Though Mrs. Onassis had seen to it that the house be given enough minimal improvements (like reconnecting running water) to take it off the condemned list and her out of the headlines (at least about her strange relatives), the two eccentric ladies continued to live surrounded by a steadily multiplying supply of cats and varmints of all kinds who are tearing the upper floors of the house apart all the while Little Edie feeds them loaf bread and dry cat food to keep them healthy.During the ninety-four minute film, the viewer begins to piece together and thus starts to understand the dysfunctional and yet underlying loving relationship between mother and child. Being born into high society, neither woman ever got the chance to really go out on her own and have the career she dreamed of. In Big Edie’s case, her soprano voice (which we hear in homemade recordings singing standards like “Tea for Two”) might have gotten her somewhere in show business. Little Edie though claiming to have talent as a dancer seems as if she could have modeled professionally if the photographs we see of her in the 1930s are any indication. Because their present-day existences are rather bleak and without promise (it’s clear the filming by the Maysles is the biggest thing to happen to them in decades), both women spend hours reliving their pasts and arguing about them: reinventing and embellishing their accomplishments for the camera and casting some doubt on what was actually true and what could be more fanciful rose-colored memories.It’s Little Edie who emerges as the star of the film. With her outrageous sense of style (constant scarves and turbans, sometimes fashioned out of towels, to conceal her hair or lack thereof and long skirts twisted into form-fitting shapes disguising their obvious age) and her stream-of-consciousness blatherings about life and love (and obviously playing to the camera when it’s apparent she’s rather fallen for one or both of her directors), she emerges as quite a unique personality: at once quite personable and yet rather pathetic in her need to escape from her mother and yet her complete fear of leaving the safety and security of her claptrap mansion. She sings and dances (a military march to a VMI fight song and a later dance in a leotard shows her to still have something of her figure well into her fifties), recites lines from Robert Frost and Omar Khayyam, and waits for the arrivals each day of the cameras so she can display her “costume” for the day chosen carefully for maximum impact.While much of the time both mother and daughter are too aware of the camera (occasionally even talking to the Maysles or referencing what they’re doing), a couple of heated arguments between the pair when neither is trying to perform or be on her best behavior show probably a truer sense of the dynamic existing between them: an underlying love with an overriding resentment from Big Edie’s dependence on her daughter and Little Edie’s claustrophobic sense of entrapment. It’s a curious and hypnotic film watching the faded finery and delusional meanderings take the place of vibrant and useful lives of purpose in the present. Obviously, however, that’s the life these two particular ladies prefer to invest in leaving the viewer with a melancholy and somewhat disgruntled aftertaste.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Filmed in 16mm, the 1.33:1 documentary looks as if it were shot yesterday in this 1080p resolution transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness for a documentary is outstanding, and color is regular and nicely saturated with consistently rendered flesh tones. The transfer bears no age-related marks like tears or splices, only the hairs that were a part of the original photography and with its most film-like grain structure intact. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is clearer and cleaner than I’ve ever experienced the movie in previous presentations in theaters or home video. The dialogue is never compromised by ambient sounds, and the track is rather remarkably free from hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter (apart from occasionally hearing the camera running in the background).
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Audio Commentary: Albert Maysles, editors/co-directors Ellen Hovde and Muttie Meyer, and associate producer Susan Froemke shares memories of the women and the filmmaking/editing process.The Beales of Grey Gardens (1:31:18, HD): the 2006 follow-up documentary which uses leftover footage from the original shooting in fashioning another look at the Beales only with the filmmakers taking a more active part in the interaction with the two ladies in question. An introduction by Albert Maysles runs 8:31 in HD.Little Edie Beale Interview (40:51): audio interview conducted in 1976 with Little Edie by Kathryn Graham for Interview magazine after the film had come out.Designer Interviews (5:25, 5:23, HD): fashion designers Todd Oldham and John Bartlett individually discuss their first experiences with the movie and its effect on their design work.Scrapbooks: three step-through scrapbooks of family photographs, behind-the-scenes movie shots and posters, and the beloved cats.Trailers (HD): a theatrical trailer (2:15) and a TV spot ad (0:38) for the film showing then at New York’s Paris Theater.Enclosed Pamphlet: contains the cast and crew lists, a couple of publicity shots, and critic Hilton Als’ assessment of the movie.Timeline: can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
Special Features Rating: 4.5/5
Like many of the Maysles’ documentaries, Grey Gardens is certainly a one-of-a-kind experience. It can be shocking, hilarious, and disturbing, all at the same time. Criterion has brought this film to high definition in a beautiful transfer which makes the film look the best it has ever appeared either in theaters or at home. Highly recommended for those looking for something off the beaten track.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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