This US documentary by the Maysles was made in 1975 and it shows that, if you have remarkable people, you only need to point a camera at them for long enough to get a story. We are flies on the wall of the crumbling East Hampton mansion, Grey Gardens, owned by Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, ‘Little Edie’. Edith is Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and we can see that she has come from old money and the American aristocracy. That is all in the past though, as the mansion is a squalid place, full of cats and raccoons and rubbish and Edith and Little Edie live an insular and co-dependent life within its walls.
At some point before the movie there had been an intervention by the Bouvier family to clean up and repair the house. When we see it, it is in fair repair but the garden is overgrown and raccoons are damaging walls. The rooms where the women spend their time get more and more filthy and you can imagine the stench. What is absolutely fascinating though, is the toxic dynamic between the two women. You know that you are stepping in to a conversation that has been going on for fifty years. Edith made her daughter look after her because she didn’t want to be alone, Little Edie thinks she could have made something of herself, resents a wasted life but has no ability to leave. Little Edie is hard to look away from. Eccentric in her dress and, in her mind, she is still a young debutante.