Reply to "Grey Gardens"

Hey everyone, I too loved the HBO 'biopic'. I thought it was a charming and compassionate portrayal of these women and the times in which they lived. My friend Betty met one of the Maysles brothers several years ago - being inquisitive, she engaged him in conversation about his friendship with Big Edie and Little Edie:

I was so lucky to get to see Albert Maysles in person and hear him discuss Grey Gardens -- right here in Montpelier, VT. It was so neat to hear him talk about Big Edie and Little Edie and how he had such respect for them. He never saw them as mentally ill or in any way abnormal. He said, "they were just like anybody else -- but more so." He actually considered them quite mentally and emotionally healthy, two unconventional people in a closely bonded mother-daughter relationship where there was a lot of love under all of their bickering. They thrived on it. Maysles said he thought that the life-style choice they made was a sign of their mental health. As he said, "they couldn't have had their singing and dancing and freedom to express themselves if they'd lived in Jackie Kennedy's world."

He said there was a negative review early on (NYTimes?) in which the critic felt the Maysles should "be ashamed of themselves" for exploiting the Bouvier- Beales by making the film. Nothing could be further from the truth and Little Edie herself wrote an eloquent letter in response to the review. But the paper never did publish it. Maysles called to inquire and they said, "well, she's schizophrenic, so we don't feel that we can put this in the paper." Isn't that awful? People said that about her, but Maysles certainly doesn't think she was schizo -- and he should know.

Albert Maysles actually has a PhD in psychology. He taught for three years at Boston University before getting into filmmaking. He said he once showed Grey Gardens to a whole group of psychologists and of course they were full of jargon, labeling the Edies as "schizophrenic, codependent, delusional, manic," etc. Maysles challenged them and proposed that they try to see the health, creativity and talent of the two women. Someone in the audience commented that this would be a great lesson for the whole mental health profession!

Another person said she felt uncomfortable with the film, as if it were too intimate and revealing. Albert answered so eloquently -- "Why aren't we comfortable with intimacy and self-revelation? That's what getting close to someone is about." He said that the Bouvier-Beales were totally comfortable with the film, as a matter of fact they loved it. When the Maysles had finished the film, they took it to Grey Gardens and showed Big Edie and Little Edie. Big Edie burst out, "The Maysles have created a classic!" Albert also recounted something Little Edie had told him about her mother's death. She was with her all the way to the end. When the end was near, she asked her mother, "Is there anything you want people to know about you? Anything you haven't gotten to say?" Big Edie said, "No. Everything I wanted to say is in the Maysles film." What a tribute to them that extraordinary film was.

As far as the Broadway show is concerned, Albert had only praise for it and said, "it's quite good for that form. Of course, I believe in the power and truth of my form, but for what it is, it's well-done." He did say that he thought Little Edie would be thrilled with the musical -- her complaint was that there hadn't been enough singing and dancing in the film. The theater version would have made her day! He also thinks the Hollywood film that's being made (with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lang) will be good. He has been consulted and has shared extra footage and documents. He says they're doing their homework for it.

Albert said he has stayed in touch with almost everyone he has ever filmed. He stayed friends with Little Edie. Once after her mother died, she was spending some time in Montreal because she wanted to learn French, and he was coming to Montreal to present a film, so he invited her to join him. She met him with great panache, all dressed up, and told him it had taken her 6 hours to get ready! He mentioned how she has influenced the fashion world. Oh yes, he also said that there are some 400 poems that Little Edie wrote and that they are good -- someday they will be published. She really was a very creative woman.

Well, that's most of what I remember. Maysles is pleased that Grey Gardens is receiving so much attention these days. He speaks of the Bouvier-Beales with great tenderness and seems to feel that it's poetic justice that those two extraordinary women now have this posthumous triumph. They probably would have loved being the subject of plays and movies! It's clear that he and his brother had great friendship for them and took them seriously, which must have meant a lot to the Edies.

(Albert Maysles, by the way, is now 84! And still doing film projects. What an amazing, vibrant man.)