Grey Gardens [1975]

Grey Gardens is the name of a neglected, sprawling estate gone to seed. The crumbling mansion was home to Edith Bouvier Beale, often referred to as "Big Edie," and her daughter, "Little Edie." The East Hampton, Long Island, home became the center of quite a scandal when it was revealed in 1973 that the reclusive aunt and cousin to Jackie O. were living in a state of poverty and filth. That's the background to this 1976 film portrait by cinéma vérité pioneers Albert and David Maysles, but it's only incidental to the fascinating story they discover inside the estate walls. The two Edies have lived in almost complete seclusion since the mid-1950s, ever since Big Edie's husband abandoned her and Little Edie (then a young socialite on the verge of a dancing career, or so she claims) was called home to care for her depressed mother. Twenty years later they continue to live in their memories while camped out in a single bedroom of the 28-room mansion overrun with cats (who use the floor as their litter box). Rehashing mistakes and missed chances with an accusing banter that becomes more stinging and angry as the documentary progresses, they exist in a sad codependency brings new meaning to the term dysfunctional. Disturbing and discomforting, it comes off like a freak show at times, but for all their arguments and recriminations, the Maysles reveal two women abandoned by their families who are left to cling to each other, for better or worse. --Sean Axmaker

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