Grey Gardens (1975) dir. Albert and David Maysles It's impossible to watch Grey Gardens in the 21st Century without thinking of it as a reality show. Rich people behaving badly. The upper crust behaving like white trash.
Gardens, however, completely lacks the aspirational element that seems to be a requirement of cable reality TV. We envy the wealth of the desperate housewives, the fame of the Kardashians, the unvetted masculinity of the truck drivers and the duck hunters. But no one wants to be an Edith Bouvier Beale.
Big and Little Edie also fail to put on the same performance as the reality stars we're used to now. Yes, they sing and dance for the camera, but they doing so simply because that's what one was supposed to do in front of a movie camera. They weren't tryng to make 'a moment' or create a catchphrase.
Grey Gardens lacks the artifice that reality TV is so often criticized for. But I'll be honest - this reality made me uncomfortable. Do the women understand what they're participating in? Are they co-creators in the way that reality TV stars are? Or are they being exploited as they struggle with mental illness? Based on the film alone, I side very strongly with that last possibility.