Sunday, April 26, 2009

Grey Gardens

I watched an HBO production of Grey Gardens just over a week ago.

I am still haunted by this picture.

The true story of Jackie O's aunt and first cousin had eluded me. I never heard of the 1970s documentary and knew absolutely nothing about these people. I watched the film because I have always enjoyed Drew Barrymore's work, though I have on occasion wondered about her choice of film.

She was absolutely fantastic in this role. Scarily so, actually. This was acting at its finest. She played opposite Jessica Lange and they were an incredible team.

In the 1930s, these two ladies were used to wealth and servants and the good life.

Somewhere along the line, things went terribly wrong.

The movie did not really give an indication to me as to what happened. They feel upon misfortune and lost their money because Dad left the house and didn't give Mom any allimony. Perhaps the documentary makes it clearer, I don't know.

The filth the women lived in, complete with cats and racoons, troubled me greatly. Obviously they were both mentally ill, but that for me needed to be clearer in the movie. The movie almost made it seem as if they thought that picking up their own trash was beneath them. So they'd rather live in squalor. There wasn't enough focus on the reasons to suit me, I suppose.

Which is the scary part, isn't it? That it can just happen... one minute you're living the good life and the next you're eating cat food. Sometimes there aren't any reasons and that makes it all the more terrifying.

The mother, played by Jessica Lange, was overbearing and dominating. She had her daughter under her fist, and the younger Edie never stood a chance. Mother Dearest was a rather scary woman as Lange portrayed her. Her daughter Edie had lots of sympathy from me but after a while I wanted to shake her into action. Obviously she could not take action, though.

In some discussions of young Edie I have read online, there is talk of schizophrenia, etc., and I can accept that. For both of the women.

That's because there was something deficit in the souls of these characters. Something strangely amiss.

By the 1970s the two were living alone in a falling-down ramshackled mansion. The city wanted to condemn the place. Jackie O and her sister stepped in and fixed the home back up.

And then some fellows came along and made a documentary, which from what I've read was an eye-opener that brought some modest fame to the younger Edie, at any rate.

I am always disturbed when I learn of people living in poor conditions, for whatever reason. It happens with greater frequency than most folks realize. I would hazard a guess that in every neighborhood in the US there is at least one home that has someone in similar circumstances. It might not be visible from the outside, but inside ... what a disaster.

But I believe these people are doing the best they can. It just doesn't live up to societal standards.

There are lists of homes with city health officials where people like firefighters are told they should not enter the home. I have seen them.

I think I live in fear of becoming a person like this. Someone beyond eccentric.

Anyway, I haven't been able to shake Grey Gardens from my brain. I am hoping this post will knock it loose from my skull.


  1. I saw the original documentary last year and I found it amazing that the ladies could live as they did... yes, obviously some kind of mental disorder in both of them.... I had a great aunt that I considered eccentric... but these ladies were far beyond being eccentric. Can't wait to see this version of Grey Gardens.

    The Blue Ridge Gal

  2. Is it in the theater or something on t.v? It sounds interesting. I'm a Drew Barrymore fan too. She is one talented gal.

  3. I think I would be interested in that film.

    Before Philip and I married I worked as a case manager for Meals on Wheels. My job involved going out to homes of elderly and helping to coordinate care for them, to help them be able to stay at home. MOW would arrange volunteers to deliver daily meals. My great-aunt was recipient to that service.

    It is an awesome program, but boy did I get my naive eyes opened. Some people were in the most horrid conditions. Cockroaches crawling over clients' faces and hair. Animal feces everywhere, stuff stacked so high you could only walk through a tiny path, barely navigable. That was the beginning of my growing up. I couldn't fathom that anyone could be left to live in such squalor.

    Sometimes it was mental illness. Sometimes, just situations out of control because of health and grown children too busy or far away. Seemed like some people just grew accustomed to their world and couldn't dream of anything else better.

    It is a very uncomfortable thing that many people try hard to avoid, the care of the incompetent...Sounds like that movie might be a good way to educate people about a serious need. Is it available o n Netflix?

  4. The movie has been running on HBO and is an HBO production. I don't know if it is available on Netflix yet or if it will be. The original documentary probably is available on Netflix, though. And some parts of it, anyway, are on youtube.

  5. The HBO film, starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lang is certainly a perfect tribute to both the original documentary and these two wonderful woman.
    I was told right after filming of the HBO film wrapped up in the fall of 2007, that I would be blown away at the last scene, where Edie sings Tea For Two at Reno Sweeny, and I was ! I had supplied the film company with the only recording in existence of Edie singing the tune, only this wasn't from her actual performance at the club, but rather her singing it just for me at one of my many visits to Grey Gardens, more than 30 years ago. Drew sang it exactly, phrase for phrase as I have it on tape. Edie and I actually met that night at Reno Sweeny, and my relationship with Grey Gardens has now spanned over 3 decades. For our complete review, check out our blog at (HBO film review by Robb Brawn & Lee Arboreen), and be sure to check our Youtube video uploaded 4/18/09 the same day as the HBO film release. Click
    GREY GARDENS PROMO to view the video

  6. I too was captivated by this story...for all the reasons you noted. Great acting too!

  7. Coming from Kennedy country I had always thought they were eccentric or beyond eccentric. I would like to see the documentary and like you I would want more focus on how it happened and if they were mentally ill or maybe eccentric, dysfunctional and living with hoarding disease. I have known people who were not obviously mentally ill but who did live in squalor, seemed not to be able to tackle it once it got so beyond them.

    My blogging friend Naomi posted about this film with some great video clips and photos, real and acted. Couldn't find the link but you can click and scroll down a few days

  8. I was dying to see that movie because I'm always intrigued when I see an old house, especially an old mansion, that has fallen into disrepair and an old person still lives there. You can tell that life was grand at one time and how did this happen? I don't think this is an uncommon story. This one is on TV because they're related to Jackie Kennedy.

    I taped the movie the other night and started watching it and the acting was unbelievable. Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore are amazing. It was spooky, the shots of the house before and after. I had to stop watching because it was so late but look forward to getting back to it. I'd love to see the documentary too because if the HBO film doesn't tell the whole story about why, I'm going to want more!


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