Thursday, March 23, 2006

Grey Gardens, The Videogame

Now there's an idea! The world seems to be on a Grey Gardens tear, with a musical currently getting iffy reviews on Broadway and soon to be a major motion picture starring none other than Jessica (Queen of Hams) Lange and Drew Barrymore as Big and Little Edie Beale.
Well, I had never seen the film before until last Sunday and I can see why people want to get on the crazy Grey Gardens bandwagon, but what I don't know is what took them so long.
We saw the film at our weekly movie club, with a very discerning audience. There was an interesting discussion about whether the filmmakers, the Brothers Maysles, exploited those two crazy gals, not only because they were two completely insane aristocrats and they lived in East Hampton, but because they happened to be cousins of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. I was in the camp that no, they weren't exploited, although training the camera on their eccentric antics for an hour and a half did give me a huge, icky feeling of unabashed voyeurism. Both Big and Little Edie seemed starved for attention and ecstatic to get some, and one of the most interesting aspects of the film is that they openly relate to Albert and David Maysles with whom they flirt and for whom they put on a splendid show, only occasionally forgetting that the camera is recording their every mishegoss. What surprised me about the film was that it was so funny, because the Beales had a mean, warped sense of humor, especially Big Edie, a monster of egotism that made it feel more like a horror film, as our resident philosopher pointed out. Of course it is also quite sad, to see two lives destroyed by minds gone cuckoo. Or rather, a mother who destroyed her child and the child who allowed her to do it. This has got to be the looniest example of codependency ever filmed.
The film makes you ponder many delicious questions such as where is the line between eccentricity and madness? Is it ok to pry into people's lives in such a raw way? Is this a noble enough subject for a documentary? Is there such a thing as a pure documentary? My opinion is no. There is no subjectivity -- there are always narrative, dramatic and aesthetic choices. There is always manipulation.
In a way Grey Gardens is quite a subversive film. I don't know if the Maysles intended it to be that way, but the raw nonchalance with which they invade that house, not even bothering to pretend that they aren't there, and recording every nuance of that tortured relationship is quite daring, particularly when so many documentaries are about socially conscious issues. Them being the Maysles, I'm sure it must have crossed their minds, so the choice to show the transparency of the process is utterly fascinating. Now, for some of our audience, Grey Gardens was impossible to imagine as a musical. I have more trouble imagining it as a movie. The moment you know it's two famous actresses on a sort of celebrity death match of emoting, someone enlighten me because I fail to see the point. The Beales allowed a camera into their filthy home and into their unraveled lives so we could see how the other half of the other half lives. Having two actresses playing pretend seems superfluous to me, but maybe in the right hands it may turn out to be something. Yet already the casting casts (!) serious doubts as far as I'm concerned. Both actresses are much younger than the originals. Lange should be playing Little Edie, not her mother.
As I said, can't wait for the videogame.

No comments:

Post a Comment