A Touch of Grey

Little Edie and Big Edie at Grey Gardens

I watched the 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens, by the Maysles’ brothers last night.  I was intrigued by the mother-daughter dynamic between Big Edie (Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale) and Little Edie (Edith Bouvier Beale) during their time spent together in the decrepit mansion.  Big Edie (the mother) was content sitting amongst her cats in her bed or alone in a rocking chair as she sunned herself on the deck.  Little Edie (the daughter) was an effervescent show-woman who amused herself, as well as the cameramen, with her fanciful songs and dances.

Although the documentary was a revealing look at two people with a certain type of psychosis (that I won’t attempt to analyze or delve into here), it also showed a playfulness that a mother and her adult daughter possessed (notwithstanding the occasional spat).  Both Big and Little Edie sang and played nostalgic tunes off their old record player and showed pictures of their younger selves in a more refined period of their lives.  I enjoyed looking at the older pictures just to catch a glimpse at how beautiful and stylish they both were, and seeing how their current (1970’s) style, although altered by their age, remained appealing in an eccentric way.  Their relationship with each other as well as their sartorial choices during the different phases of their lives kept me interested.

As I continued to watch, I noticed there were many moments of fashion inspiration throughout the film.  The camera would take quick close-ups of Big Edie’s colorfully printed slippers that somehow retained its sheen, despite the overall disarray of Big Edie’s outfit.  Little Edie, on the other hand, welcomed extended shots of her clever yet necessary tailoring of her skirts (considering she had to alter her clothes to fit her changing figure, I gathered that this was what led to her preference for wearing some of her skirts upside-down).  Little Edie proved to be a hoot in her flirty presentation of her first outfit as well as in her subsequent outfits; however, she also showed how she could be self-conscious in a frilly leotard that appeared to be worn especially for the cameras.

March on, Little Edie!

The thoughtful and yet chaotic way in which Little Edie (and to an extent, Big Edie) created her outfits was oddly delightful to see.  It was like capturing two young girls, still naive and fearful of the real world, in the midst of a game of playing dress-up and playing house all at once.  Their fashion sense and way of life have been described as “bohemian,” which seems to be a keen description of the duo.

It was unfortunate that the Beales were not able to comfortably live their lives inside as well as outside of Grey Gardens, but we can only hope that they were happy in their life together.  I’m sure the two Edies would like to be remembered for their talents (Big Edie a gifted singer, and Little Edie a natural performer).  Either way, I would like to believe that the joy of self-expression that both Big Edie and Little Edie shared will leave a positive legacy.  I know they have made a lasting impression on me.


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