Sunday, August 19, 2007

Week 11: Grey Gardens

Pop Quiz! Sanity Edition

Wondering if you're crazy? Take the Grey Gardens sanity quiz!

A) Have you ever cooked corn in a pot of boiling water next to your bed, then buttered it and ate it in bed?

B) Upon seeing one of your 20 cats pee in your bed next to you, have you ever declared, "I thrive on the smell of cat urine!"?

C) Have you ever been forced to cart 1,000 bags of trash from inside your house?

If you answered "yes" to any of the questions, welcome to crazy town!

I'm not one of those people obsessed with Jackie Kennedy, but still, I can't help but rubberneck when I hear that some incredibly rich, privileged family has a big old pot of crazy in it. In the case of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy, her pot o' crazy came in the form of her aunt and cousin and their dilapidated mansion, Grey Gardens.

Grey Gardens is a documentary from 1975 on Big Edie (Edith Bouvier Beale) and Little Edie Beale, aunt and cousin of Jackie O. These ladies grew up in the roaring aristocracy of New York City and by all accounts lived a lush and privileged life. They summered in the family's Hampton's manse, Grey Gardens. But somewhere along the way, Big Edie's husband left her and she called for her lovely and popular daughter, Little Edie, to come back and live with her in Grey Gardens.

Twenty or so cats and one thousand bags of trash later (no exaggeration, according to one newspaper report), Grey Gardens became a rodent-infested, trash-strewn skeleton of aristocracy and the two Edies had gone plumb crazy inside it.

The documentary, although I've only recently heard of it, is apparently legendary and a cult favorite on the gay scene (I confirmed this through a few Google searches by using keywords such as "homo gardens" and "queens love Edie").

The audio quality is rough and it lingers a bit, but still, it's compelling. Especially when you see glimpses into their pasts in which they were young and beautiful and so strikingly normal. But in the film, normal is long gone. They are eccentric to the point of insanity. Like in the scene where Big Edie, lying on her filthy mattress, BOILS A POT OF CORN next to her bed. I still can't get over it.

Watching the scenes of Little Edie (who at 56, is no longer little) are particularly heartbreaking because as she recounts her years at Spence and her debutante balls and society parties, you're struck by what terrible turns her life took and how much she lost. She had every bit as much opportunity as her cousin Jackie did, but her life went tragically astray.

And somehow she lost all her hair. That was never explained, and frankly, I'd like an answer. Maybe the cats ate it.

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