Friday, April 22, 2011

Film Costume: Grey Gardens (1975)

by Tamara Tucci

The film Grey Gardens by brothers Albert and David Maysles was a documentary about Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, who were relatives of Jackie Kennedy and well-known for being eccentric recluses. Once incredibly wealthy, when Big Edie’s husband Phelan divorced her, he left his ex-wife and daughter penniless. The documentary bares it all: the squalor of their lives and their mental peculiarities. The mother and daughter live together in a crumbling house that is infested with fleas, stuffed with garbage, and without running water. This photo of Little Edie is from a scene in the film and was also used as the movie poster to promote Grey Gardens. I think her ensemble in this photo perfectly captures her character; she is a woman who was once wealthy and elegant, but now she lives in destitution. We see flourishes of her old wealth—the fur coat, the slash of red lipstick, the head scarf which shields her scalp (she has lost her hair from a stress disorder and/or malnutrition... the reason is not made clear in the film). We see her trying to be the woman she once was. I believe that the marks of age can also be considered part of her costume; once a beautiful young woman, the years of living in squalor have hardened her looks and rendered her almost unrecognizable from her youth.

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