Buried Alive

Grey Gardens boy: I bet I’ve watched both the HBO dramatization and the original documentary about that sad old story a dozen times. There’s something so haunting about the relationship between Edie the elder and her daughter. Poor Edie Jr., 40 years after this picture was taken, walking around with one skirt functioning as a head scarf to hide her baldness and a second upside-down skirt pinned around her torso. Poor both of them, hiding in that bewitched Sleeping Beauty castle of a house, holed up in a single room on bare filthy mattresses surrounded with cat waste. It’s like some nightmare about the future that could fill you with stark terror as you slept.

At one point in the documentary the two are talking of marriage and Edie Jr.’s unmarried state, she who said she could have married any number of men if she hadn’t been prevented by her various dark forces including her abandoning father; could even have married Joe Kennedy and been First Lady like her beautiful cousin Jacqueline. That abandoning father and husband, that Phelan Beale:  listen to what gets said about him by the two and about marriage in general. This is what I copied down from the 1974 documentary and not HBO’s re-creation. It’s Edie Jr. speaking first, in that hoity-toity accent she assumes when she dwells on lost glories.

“My father believed in ruining his children’s lives,” she says. Then, in an odd non-sequitur, “He wanted me to get a Masters Degree.”

“You were scared of your father,” says Edie Senior who with her wispy hair and her ruined partly nude  body seems much more down-to earth. Back to Edie Jr now: 

“He said the only thing to BE was a professional woman. He did say that, didn’t he, mother? He didn’t want me to get married.”

And the mother says, “I don’t think it’s important for people to get married. I don’t believe that at all. Don’t you want some of this butter pecan?[eating ice cream straight from the carton] “Mmmmm!”

“If you can’t get a man to propose to you you might as well be dead,” says Edie Jr. “These women who don’t marry, what are they proving? I think it’s disgusting! They have to go around with dogs or other women… It’s disgusting!”

But dogs are lovely!” says her mother. “I’ll take a dog any day!” She could have been saying all that in this shot here:

Only the whole time neither is looking at the other, or at the camera. The surviving Maysles brothers says in the commentary on the Grey gardens DVD that they often didn’t seem to be even thinking about what they were saying much less listening to each other. It harrows me. When people get marooned and sealed away as the old and the forgotten often do: the thought just harrows me.


 the real Maysles with their real subjects

and below here, the real Edie I think, and not Drew Barrymore playing her

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