Grey Gardens: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

December 11, 2013 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

This is a look inside the lives of Big Edie Beale and her daughter Little Edie, relatives of Jackie O. and residents of Grey Gardens, a once lush estate. The large house has turned into a ramshackle dive over time however, with rotting wood, tons of holes, and no real attempts made to preserve or restore it. The grass grows high and the nearby wooded areas also look unkempt, save for some small work done near the house, as well as the potential garden, with the ladies would like to see put in soon. Like the house they live in, Big Edie and Little Edie also used to be beautiful and sought after, but by the same stroke, they too have lost some luster and broken down. Neither of the two leave their East Hampton home too often, although Little Edie (who is 53, but acts 12) claims she is ready to leave any second, which pains Big Edie a lot. These two women do little aside from talk about their pasts, bemoan their lost chances, and sing, boy do these two love to sing. But as they discuss their paths not taken, potential mistakes, and missed opportunities, do these two women really wish to leave this crumbling, filthy house, or is this truly their home?

This is one of the most unusual films I’ve ever seen and since it is a documentary, it is that much stranger. I had never seen Grey Gardens until now, but I heard good reviews and since I have enjoyed other Maysles (Salesman, Gimme Shelter) pictures, I jumped at the chance to spin this disc for myself. As with all good documentaries, Grey Gardens strikes a nerve with the viewer, but which nerve will depend on which viewer. I found this to be a humorous, but very sad picture, but some might not see the humor, which is understandable. I couldn’t help but laugh sometimes at the situations and comments, but in the grand scheme, it is rather sad, perhaps even depressing at times. It can be hard to believe sometimes also, as some of the issues here are so unusual, you almost think you’re watching a fictional film, as opposed to a documentary. The house is unfit for humans to live in, but these two women reside there with their countless cats, within this strange world that no one else can seem to penetrate. Even with the cameras present, we’re given only a partial look inside Grey Gardens, as only these two women were able to see the whole picture. I highly recommend this release to anyone interested and while it is a little slow at times, Grey Gardens is a superb film.

Video: How does it look?

As the name entails, Grey Gardens isn’t the most colorful movie out there, in fact, it’s not really that chock full of color at all. Still, Criterion has created a brand new 2K High Definition transfer for the film and the result…well it’s positively stunning.  I’d caught the old standard DVD (also included in this combo set) several years ago and the improvement is instantly noticeable. Detail is vastly improved, there seems to be a bit more “pop” in the transfer and it looks like the entire film has been smoothed over and given a new lease on life. This is yet another testament to the folks at Criterion and their tireless efforts to make every movie look as good as it possibly can.  Well done.

Audio: How does it sound?

Again, this isn’t something that will really test the limits of your audio system, but the included LPCM Mono track does work. The nature of the film reveals that audio gloss is not the forefront of concerns, but I was never let down here, even for a second. The dialogue is clean and never hard to understand, even the off key belted songs sound crisp here. A little thin at times maybe, but when you consider the source materials, it simply doesn’t get much better than this. This disc also includes English subtitles, should you need those.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Although all of the supplements from Criterion’s previous standard have made their way to Blu-ray, no new supplements have been added. Still, it was a pretty robust set on that disc, so here’s what’s offered:

  • Audio Commentary – Albert Maysles, Muffie Meyer, Ellen Hovde, and Susan Froemke is the same track that appeared on the earlier Criterion standard DVD. Tons of information is present here and is certainly worthy of a listen.
  • The Beals of Grey Gardens – What was a follow-up to Grey Gardens, using some of the same footage that the filmmakers shot in 1975.  However it’s essentially a “bonus” sequel that runs 92 minutes. Albert Maysles introduces The Beales of Grey Gardens.
  • Little Eddie – The aptly-titled segment is a collection of excerpts from an interview with Little Eddie. The interview was for the April 1976 issue of Interview magazine.
  • Interviews – Two short interviews with designers Todd Oldham and John Bartlett
  • Scrapbook – Three segments: Cats, Family Album, Behind the Scenes.
  • Illustrated Booklet – Hilton Als’ essay “Staunch Characters” adds to the release.
  • DVD – A standard DVD of the movie is also included.

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