Saturday, September 20, 2008

The revolutionary costume du jour

Okay, so what about your promise to explain the bobble doll of two posts ago, you ax querulently. A thousand pardons – things are cranking up at PCS lately, so I’ve been buried by work and pursued by correspondence, to put it floridly.

Anyway. The little lady is “Little Edie” Beale, with whom I’ve become obsessed after recently re/viewing the legendary cinema verite masterpiece from the Maysles brothers, Grey Gardens. I saw this over 30 years ago, when I was a tad too young to understand what the fuss was about; I think I dozed through large sections of the movie.

What a revelation seeing it again now. Spellbound by the film from start to finish, I couldn’t take my eyes off these two daft ladies living together in squalor amid the ruins of a formerly opulent mansion in the Hamptons. Raccoons (which Big Edie and Little Edie feed) peek through holes in the walls; the once formal gardens are now thickets that grow right up to the front door. In one infamous scene, a cat defecates behind a grand portrait of Big Edie from her glory days.

Because the Beales were close relatives of Jackie Kennedy (aunt and cousin), many people reviled the filmmakers, back in 1975, for being exploitive and sensationalist. Seeing it now, though, have to wonder if the charge can stick when you’re filming people who so very much want to be exploited. Little Edie mugs for the cameras, showing off her unique fashion sense, warbling away whenever possible (she actually had a cabaret act in New York, briefly, following the death of Big Edie a year after Grey Gardens was made), even dancing in costume. The Beales were thrilled with the movie; when Big Edie was asked for a statement on her deathbed, her last words were: “Everything I have to say is in the film.”

Perhaps what fascinates me nowadays is wondering what it takes to devolve into the daffy reclusivity of the Beales. How long would it take me, really, if I decided never to leave my house again? Not so much as I’d like to think, I bet. We have a light bulb over the stairs to the basement that has been burnt-out for a year. And a water-damaged ceiling in one room we haven’t repainted in over five years. It’s not hard for me to envision a time of life, a state of mind, a state of sheer desuetude from which, one fine day, I would simply shrug say: oh well.


Just for fun, after you’ve looked at the clip above of Little Edie from the original film, check out how the moment is interpreted in the musical adaptation of the same name starring the one and only, absolutely fabulous Christine Ebersole.

1 comment:

Mead said...

Also a fun new book to check out full of fun memoraBEALEia: