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The longtime cult classic documentary Grey Gardens, which dove into the lives of Jackie Onassis' relatives, "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Beale, had a sort of official mainstream zeitgeist moment in 2009, between a musical adaptation on Broadway and the fictionalized HBO Grey Gardens, which starred Drew Barrymore (who won the Emmy for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Movie) and Jessica Lange, and covered the span of their lives, from society beginnings to the filming of the documentary.
That said, have you seen the documentary that started it all? Now you can. It's a fairly indescribable experience. "Big Edie," Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, and "Little Edie," Edith Bouvier Beale, were New York socialities from a wealthy family, the aunt and cousin to Jackie O, respectively. After Big Edie's husband left her, both Beales ended up living in squalor in their Hamptons manse. These women were certainly staunch characters, with that strange socialite mix of an accent.
There's a queasily compelling appeal to the film, as their lives are both heartbreaking and endearing at the same time. But seeing their zeal at having someone put them on film, talk to them, take them out of their hermetic existence, takes the film beyond any camp appeal and into another level, where you're required to look and observe the lives of these forgotten women. Was it exploitative? Sure. Did it put a face on an American story that you couldn't make up if you tried? Yes. All these contradictions make Grey Gardens a truly valuable American document.
Watch the film now for free on Hulu: