VERSUS THE SCARECROW EPISODE 4: DOCUMENTARIES: THE QUEST FOR PEACE. I decided to challenge myself and really open the doors of my film knowledge and take on “The Scarecrow Video Movie Guide”. It’s 808 pages of movies and movie reviews from some of the most knowledgeable movie people you don’t know. It’s a book put together by a staff that praises, and destroys, some of our favorites and not so favorites. You can read the rest of my series here.
Just a quick refresher: each episode, I’m going to tackle three films from three different categories. Two films will be films I’ve never seen before and one will be one I’ve seen before or own. For the new films, well, new to me, I’m going to review them like a typical FTS review using the TOAST Rating system. But, for the films I’ve seen, I’m going give a quick paragraph or two about why I like or don’t like the film. We’ll try to include the poster and trailer for each film. “….and here. We. Go!”
Documentaries are films too and today is a special episode dedicated to them! I’ll be taking a look at some well known documentaries and some superbly controversial ones too as I look at Grey Gardens, Triumph of the Will, and Roger & Me.
Grey Gardens (1975) Directed by Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Muffie Meyer. Starring: Edith Bouvier Beale, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and Brooks Hyers. IMDB says: ”An old mother and her middle-aged daughter, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, live their eccentric lives in a filthy, decaying mansion in East Hampton.”
Grey Gardens was always a movie that struck me as thoroughly depressing. Wave after wave of sadness and despair that wash over you as they pour out of the estate that is the focus of the film. There are no high notes or any positives, just a depressing film. That being said, I was also struck by how much I didn’t care. Most documentaries get you feeling for the person or cause they are showcasing, but nearly half way through I stopped caring. I stopped caring about the dilapidated estate (Grey Gardens) and I stopped caring about its inhabitants. Maybe it was the overwhelming sadness of the estate or maybe I just became really put off by the characters. “Who are the characters and why make a documentary about them in the first place?” Good question.
The documentary, shot wonderfully by the Maysles brothers (known for Gimme Shelter) is about Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and Edith Bouvier Beale (Little Edie), relatives of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, and how they’ve been living at their estate with little to no money in increasing filth and squalor. The film showcases the strained relationship between the Edies and how unhealthy their near bi-polar dynamic has become. They look as though they haven’t left the house in YEARS, staying isolated with their trash, numerous pets, and themselves. Big Edie feels like things are fine and that they’re making it work, whereas Little Edie yearns to leave for bigger things. Her plans are stopped by Big Edie with guilt and other mental attacks.
But through all of that, through all of the filth, isolation, shots of the decrepit household, and the bickering of the Edies, it gets old fast and you start to wonder why we are really looking into their lives? Is it because of their relationship to Mrs. Kennedy? Maybe we haven’t seen any real life examples of such squalor during the 70s in a large format medium such as movies/documentaries? I don’t know, but what I do know is this documentary, while gorgeously shot, is a depressing slump that leaves you uninterested as it drags you through a hopeless tale of life.
Added Bonus: If you’re interested in this documentary but aren’t sure about it’s content, HBO put out a film a few years back called Grey Gardens starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange. Both gave incredibly detailed and accurate performances where scenes are pulled directly from the documentary. Pace, look, feel, everything. It was rather stunning and surprisingly, I enjoyed the HBO film more than the original documentary.
Check back tomorrow for my review of Triumph of the Will and then again on Wednesday for the conclusion of episode four with my reflection on Roger & Me. And if you’re interested in more, you can find the rest of the Versus The Scarecrow series here.