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Reviews in Brief: Grey Gardens (1975)

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Before you watch the Drew Barrymore-Jessica Lange HBO docudrama, Grey Gardens, check out the Maysles brothers' 1975 documentary of the same name. Albert and David follow aging Big Edie Bouvier (of the Jackie O. Bouviers) and her daughter, Little Edie, as they wander around Grey Gardens, their Shirley-Jackson-esque American Gothic estate, planted in the midst of East Hampton.

But the Edies have aggressively turned their backs on the Hamptons — and the rest of us, lost in their mutual dependence and resentment. The Maysles brothers' films are famous for getting uncomfortably close to exploitation, but as I watched Grey Gardens I found myself moving beyond the queasy pleasures of voyeurism to a sense of tragedy, as though Death of a Salesman had somehow shed all its pretensions and murmured, "I told you so": The American Dream sits in a room filled with rubbish and cats and croons a sad song no one wants to hear — and dances with its eyes closed, so it doesn't have to see.

If you want losers to laugh at, Grey Gardens will feed that need and make you a worse person. But if you can manage pity and fear, then it will make you a better one for enduring it.

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About Paul J. Marasa