Combustible Celluloid
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With: Edith 'Little Edie' Bouvier Beale, Edith Bouvier Beale, Jack Helmuth, Brooks Hires, Norman Vincent Peale, Jerry Torre, Lois Wright
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Albert Maysles, David Maysles
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 100
Date: 09/27/1975

Grey Gardens (1975)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Brothers David and Albert Maysles brought innovative methods to their documentaries: no narrative structure and no narration -- just truth. Their most famous and most spectacular work is still the 1970 Rolling Stones film Gimme Shelter, but the far more outrageous cult classic Grey Gardens is also worthy of note. It tells the story of Jackie Onassis' outcast cousin "Little Edie" and aunt Edith Bouvier Beale, who live in a dilapidated mansion outside of New York.

The movie walks a fine line between exploitation and journalism. The women are friendly with the documentarians, and seem unconcerned with what goes in front of the cameras. Their strange wisdom and funny quips are both ridiculous and poignant. In short, Grey Gardens defies definition.

The Criterion Collection presents the movie in an outstanding digital transfer, with an Albert Maysles commentary track (David Maysles passed away in 1987), with tons of extras. It includes a fairly recent telephone conversation between Edie and Albert that shouldn't be missed. In 2013, Criterion released a Blu-ray edition, with a new restoration and an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The new disc includes the 2006 sequel The Beales of Grey Gardens.

The Criterion Collection also released Salesman (1969), selected for the Library of Congress's National Registry of Film, which follows four Bible salesmen on their beats in the American South. This unusual pair of docs is certainly worth inclusion in any DVD library.

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