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Grey Gardens Documentary Essay

The 1975 documentary film tells us about the story of the Beales, “Big Edie” and “Little Edie,” aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, respectively. The two women lived on poverty and isolation in one of the rooms of the 28-room mansion at one of the neighborhood of East Hampton, New York. Their story being exposed to main publications at that time stirred intrigues and scandals. Watching the film was a hearty experience. Seeing two formerly wealthy women being at the top of their class lived on squalid was a realization about life.

The conversation the Beales had on their abode is a clear depiction of how life is when you feel that the world has turned its back on you. The Beales were courageous enough to let the whole world know how they lived after a fall. Letting people see their living condition on that mansion is a very strong statement. The arguments the mother and daughter had revealed secrets and controversies of how they lived their lives. “Little Edie” taking care of her sick mother has caused her desperation leaving her life and career behind. “Big Edie” singing on the documentary showed hope and optimism about life.

The documentary is very realistic comparing it to the contemporary documentaries we are seeing right now. There was no editing done as you can see the camera man on the film talking to the Beales. The lighting and images though not of good quality makes the audience put themselves on the shoes of the two characters. There were parts of the film where the images are obscured but would still know what’s happening because of the two characters dialogues. The sound quality of the film really captured the true emotions of “Big Edie” and “Little Edie”. The tenacity of the characters was clearly shown on the film.

Comparing this documentary film to other films, it became clear that this has followed the life story of the two characters. Unlike many other documentary films wherein only the selected chapters are highlighted on the story, this was something different. It was beautifully crafted showing every bits and pieces of how the two women lived their lives alone together in that desolated mansion. Big Edie’s birthday celebration was a heartwarming scene telling everybody that poverty is never a hindrance to merry making. The music played on the film and the dresses worn by the characters are interrelated showing what decade it is.

The sound of the sea though not seen on the film represented that the mansion was somewhere near a sea. The whispering, singing, dancing depicts the states of mind of the characters creating more impact to the viewers. The emotions of despair, hurt, frustration and boredom emanated from the characters’ dialogues and songs. The film was more of a reality show than a documentary film. This is a reality show in the sense that this is a true to life story showing the day to day life of two women living in what we call nowadays slum area.

Documentary films nowadays are run by a host/reporter guiding us to the story, narrating to us every detail of it. Grey Gardens was narrated to us by the characters. The Beales presented their story on camera which has captured the hearts of those who have watched it. It is very surreal making those who have watched it active and becoming related to the characters. The film is extraordinaire. The abstracting techniques made by the filmmaker are somewhat similar to how “Avant-garde” or experimental films are made. However, this film’s structure was a bit distorted.

The message the filmmaker wanted to convey was not clear at the start of the documentary. There was no introduction or a narration given when the movie started. If you are not a fan of documentaries, you will get bored and will not even try to finish watching the film. There are tendencies that you’ll look into reviews first about the film before even watching it. The man’s character visiting the Beales on the film has not been established and you can’t even point out how if he is in anyway related to the main characters.

The film can also be politically influenced as the Beales are related to Jennifer Kennedy Onassis and one scene from the film showed “Little Edie” dancing with US flag and there was one scene as well where the two are discussing about the results of the election. This women’s lives being shown and publicized to public has created scandals and speculations about Jennifer Kennedy Onassis. The film’s sound and image quality was averagely done as film making technology during that time was not yet fully developed.

It did not require much of an editing as what was shown was what the filmmakers captured on their lenses. There was no soundtrack used. The only sounds you can hear are the mothers talking and singing, the man visiting them, the radio and the sound of the beach nearby. The scenes appear not be chronologically arranged unlike many documentaries where the dates and times are mentioned. Unlike many other documentaries, the film also does not have a short summary towards the end. As an audience you are left with many questions on your mind thinking how the story of the mother and daughter ended.

The phone call towards the end to “Big Edie” was heartwarming, yes, but it did not give any clarity at all to what the filmmaker wanted to convey. If you have not read the reviews or stories of the characters on the film, you will definitely asked yourself how did these two women ended up living on that mansion. What was the mansion mean to them? How did they end up being together after being separated for almost 25 years? Is “Little Edie” sick too? What was that piece of clothing she wore always on her head. Overall, the film was a socially nurturing experience. It was a learning experience.


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