Sunday, August 23, 2009

When an Era Refuses to End


I'm back from vacation and a few movie/book highlights for The Shelf.

I saw Grey Gardens while on the plane. Saw it a few times to be honest - that's what twelve hours on a plane will do for you.

This recent adaptation takes its name from a 1975 documentary of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Little Edie. In the film, Edith is portrayed by Jessica Lang while Drew Barrymore plays Little Edie.

The Beales were high society gentrified Yankee elites in the early part of the 20th century. Edith was a cousin of Jacquine Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Their estate, which is the setting for both the documentary and film adaptation was called Grey Gardens and was located in the heart of East Hampton's epicenter of privilege.

Early in their lives, secure in a world of affluence, Edith and Edie are charming, talented and adept at making the most of all their world affords them. Then things start to go wrong. Edie wishes to become an actress in Manhattan while Edith cannot comprehend why anyone would leave Grey Gardens. So begins a friction between mother and daughter that will continue for the remainder of their lives.

Edith finds herself alone after her marriage ends and the peripheral men in her life make their exits. Edie develops a case of alopecia shortly after her relationship with a married man comes to an abrupt end. After the death of Phelan Beale, the trust bequeathed to Edith and Edie runs dry.
Mother and daughter then fortify themselves against the outside world of modernity and change. They attempt to encapsulate their patrician world though all while their home, Grey Gardens, descends into a state of squalid isolation. East Hampton neighbors complain, tabloids take note, and Cousin Jackie herself must make a temporary rescue.

By the 1970’s the high society world of gentrified privilege that created the Beales has waned in influence and relevance. Just as the Beales are oblivious in their Quixote-like resistance, the viewer feels a tremendous admiration for their instinctive endurance.

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