Our Report from STAUNCH! The Ultimate Grey Gardens Festival

albert-sara-rebekah-maylses-and-bambi-the-mermaid
Albert, Sara, Rebekah Maysles, and Bambi the Mermaid

Little Edie Beale said once, “They’re twenty years too late — everybody. Or I’m fifty years ahead. I can’t decide which,” and though zany, there is always truth in her aphorisms. This quote became something of a theme during STAUNCH! The Ultimate Grey Gardens Festival. The fest, a three-day celebration pegged tp the release of a new book based on the 1975 documentary by brothers Albert and David Maysles, took place at the family’s cinema in Harlem, and proved that Edie was right.

It has been thirty-five years since the release of the original documentary; a Broadway adaptation and HBO movie later, interest in the lives of the uber-eccentric mother and daughter pair, Little Edie and Big Edie Beale, is still going strong. The festival was the brainchild of Sara and Rebekah Maysles, Albert’s daughters, and the creators of the book; in compiling the volume, they combed through their father’s archives for photographs, film stills, and letters as well as “wild” audio not included in the film. (Sara painstakingly listened to 150 hours of audio to hand select the stories which Rebakah’s collages illustrate.)

little-edie-burlesque cinema-decorations

The cinema was decorated to look like the cheerfully decaying East Hampton mansion from the film replete with vine covered walls, twin beds, and a stuffed cat. Friday night saw a screening of the film and a panel discussion; Saturday, a Grey Gardens burlesque with a drag queen MC, Little Edie Strip tease (see above), and clips of never-before-seen footage. One choice snippet: An interview with the current owner of the Grey Gardens mansion, who says the ghosts of the Beales still haunt the house. With the spotlight still trained on them, why would they ever leave?