Albert Maysles revisited the mother and daughter made legendary through 1975’s GREY GARDENS in this 2006 companion piece, in which his brother David posthumously shares the director credit. The film was released theatrically in New York City, while also appearing at festivals including Toronto later that year before coming to DVD via Criterion.
Assembled from hours of footage that didn’t make it into the original film, the later documentary offers viewers more than just outtakes. While GREY GARDENS is a masterful work, it’s clear that the Maysles had a lot more material they could have used beyond its roughly hour and half running time to tell the story of Big and Little Edie. As leisurely structured as the original, the doc invites the viewer into the the Beales’ home, an East Hampton estate that has seen better days, for an intimate yet casual exploration of their often contrary relationship. Along the way, Little Edie reveals aspects of her life unaddressed in the original, from religion and politics to family relationships and astrology; flirts with the filmmakers; and breaks into song numerous times. Big Edie, for her part, comes off as warmer, expressing a near-obsession with the handsome young caretaker Jerry (the subject of another documentary being shown at the Maysles this weekend); eats a lot of ice cream; and actively encourages her daughter to change outfits about ten times a day to amuse her, explaining Little Edie’s penchant for costume changes in the first film. Fittingly, the film ends with Little Edie talking about her home, and being asked what she thought of titling the original film after it, bringing the viewer full circle to GREY GARDENS.