Thursday, September 30, 2010

descent into obscurity

“I think you don’t see yourself the way others see you.”

Those are the words of Edith Bouvier Beale or “Big Edie” to her daughter, “Little Edie.” The line, though speaks against truisms of self-assurance, actually works the opposite for the two characters. In fact, both live for themselves for the most part of their existence.

Such is their blindness by other people’s thoughts after a series of misfortunes—left by a lover, a husband, numerous bills, luxury lost—that the former socialites have ignored their mansion, Grey Gardens, decomposing with numerous cats and raccoons around them, only breathing with their dreams that someday the slippery nature of opulence will soon transpire in their lives again.

Michael Sucsy’s “Grey Gardens”, a movie I have just seen last night on television starring Drew Barrymore as Little Edie and Jessica Lange as Big Edie, is a kind of mosaic, a firsthand retelling of the Beales’s lives though the lens of two documentary filmmakers, Albert and David Maysles. (It’s like an hours-long “the making” of the 1975 documentary).

In a nutshell, it tells Little Edie wanting to be a stage performer, just as better as her mother, but Big Eddie and her husband keeps that away from her, suggesting that finding the right husband (which means “rich husband” in the time of Depression) is more important. This husband also has another family, and when he could no longer handle Big Eddie’s excessive lifestyle, throwing in one party after another, he left both mother and child. From here on, the once glamorous Beales’s descent into obscurity begins.

Aside from the admirable performances of the two key actors, “Grey Gardens” works for its point: love and passion can sometimes eat you up inside, leaving you hollow, that even in the midst of decay, the fantasy of the past is far more real and believable if you still believe in it, comfortable with it. The idea is poignant, if not distressing. This premise may be a bit too much but this could very well be the only means of enduring life’s oddities: to prevent assaults of whatever form, one must hold on to one’s self. And in here, the Beales hold on dearly.

The two characters may not be the perfect people to embody victims, what with the extravagant lives they once have, but it is this very absence of concrete conflict that makes the Beales story endearing. They have brought themselves down, care for no one but themselves, so in a way, it is fitting they find redemption in each other.

Yes, their quirks and eccentricities have gotten people’s attention, especially after the release of the Maysles documentary years later, but it is these very things that make them authentically human, affecting.


rudeboy said...

I'm drawn to these sad stories of reversals of fortune and people essentially suspending themselves in days of time gone by. Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, and the titular character in A Rose for Emily.

Once-mighty, always proud. Heads bloody, but unbowed. I can't say their stories are universal - not all of us can or will live lives of decadent opulence - but their emotions and motivations are.

To varying extents, we all cling to times in our lives when we thought we were happiest. I guess because when one has lost everything, the only thing one has to hold on to are memories.

Thanks for the post. I'll look for Grey Gardens.

f. jordan said...

You’re welcome.

Reversal of fortune is plenty in the movies but only a few could match Grey Garden’s refinement; it didn’t go overboard with the theme’s overused consequential desperation and melodrama. Instead, everything is just normal except for the world that the characters inhabit. And even if the Beales are full of pride, it is hard not to fall for them. That's why I love this movie.