By Casey Campbell
Grey Gardens is an unflinching, uncomfortable, oftentimes unwatchable experience in meaningless filmmaking. Directed by four people, yet lacking any ideas or anything to say, Grey Gardens is one of the most successful exploitation films ever made. The directors managed to make newspaper clippings at the beginning of the film the most interesting thing about it (while also shoehorning in their own prior works).
Picture this: two women living in solitude and squalor in East Hampton, New York. They’re surrounded by wealth, yet live in dilapidated obscurity. Their mansion houses cats, raccoons, and any other assortment of pests. They’re not well.
Yet, every online descriptor I can find of both the 79-year-old mother Edith, and her 56-year-old daughter “Little Edie” include the word “eccentric.” I would go so far as to say they were mentally ill. Edie dances around and sings to herself, wearing a sheet around her scalp for the entirety of the too long 100 minute run time, and her mother is almost always bedridden and dangerously close to nude. They cannot care for their home, nor honestly for themselves. And to make matters worse, the film ends with what was almost certainly an unauthorized recording of a phone call from Edie to the filmmakers.
There is documentary style filmmaking, and then there is real life exploitation. This is unfortunately the latter, and it doesn’t make up for its lack of substance with its lack of moral integrity.
You’d be better off watching the Documentary Now! episode “Sandy Passage” which pays homage to Grey Gardens. It’s funny, and doesn’t seem like it’s taking advantage of anyone.