Hello Motha Dawling

I’ve been skeptical about HBO’s upcoming release of a dramatized Grey Gardens. Admittedly, I’m not *that* invested in thinking, worrying, or even caring about it, but when I first heard that Drew Barrymore had been cast as Little Edie, I was a little sickened. Of course, I didn’t see the sense in turning the 1975 documentary (cinéma vérité?) into a musical either, and I adored it. I saw it the first time during its initial run off Broadway. Shortly thereafter it had a run on Broadway, and that was the year Mary Louise Wilson and Christine Ebersole won the acting Tony awards for their portrayals of Big and Little Edie, respectively. They were absolutely brilliant — captivating enough that I barely paid an ounce of attention to Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker, who were sitting together just a couple of rows in front of me. That says a lot. I recently saw a production of Grey Gardens at the Studio Theatre in DC. Nothing will ever compare to the Wilson/Ebersole duo at Playwrights Horizons in New York, but it’s evidence nonetheless that, despite what may have been hasty objections, I’m clearly hooked on the stage adaptation.

So why object to a dramatized film version? Upon reflection, I guess there’s no good reason. I think it may have been a knee-jerk reaction to what I saw as the egregious miscasting of Drew Barrymore as Little Edie. Really? Gertie as the ultimate Staunch Woman? Furthermore, I simply couldn’t imagine Jessica Lange as Big Edie. But it looks like once again I may stand corrected. These early glimpses have me pretty excited to see it now — not that I have cable or any other form of access to HBO, mind you, but I’ll watch it one of these days. In the meantime, these clips will have to suffice.

This whole internal debate reminds me of hearing Gregory Maguire give a reading at Harvard several years ago. I had just read Wicked and was fascinated by both the novel and the author. Maguire spoke about being initially wary of having his book adapted into a musical for the stage. The more he thought about it, however, the more he realized that taking his work to the stage was simply another way of expanding the ideas that he, himself, had stolen in the first place. His own attempt to write the story of someone who embodied contemporary notions of pure evil (he’d tried fictionalizing Hitler, but soon realized the impossible task he’d set himself and gave up) led him to pluck the Wicked Witch of the West neatly from her perch in L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. What began in Baum’s imagination had already been thrust into the imaginations of countless millions worldwide when it was adapted for 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. How could Maguire rationally object to someone wanting to come along and adapt his own work in potentially new and wonderful ways? (Of course, I suspect he had lots of other little green incentives — more than just Elphaba herself — to help him arrive at such a level of acceptance.)  Similarly, how could I?  What could possibly be the point of me boycotting the movie?  There’s not one as far as I can tell, so I intend to embrace it fully — albeit on DVD via Netflix, probably in about six months.

Anyway, the twisting and bending and borrowing of art. Check out this latest example on HBO: Saturday April 18th, 8pm.

Update!  Read this article.

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2 Responses to Hello Motha Dawling

  1. Katy says:

    I have had the same debate and I think, maybe, what really “bothers” me is that these adaptations (the musical and this new movie) answer too many questions. I will feel sorry for the newcomers to Big and Little Edie who won’t experience the magic and jawdropping mystery of the doc.
    Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved the musical (I was there with you, brag, brag) and getting the “back story” but I already loved them no matter what…and the way that mother does her corn.

  2. randasfans says:

    Katy, there you go again: always thinking of others. I totally agree with you. Personally I still feel the same sense of wonder when I see the musical that I did when I first saw the documentary. I hadn’t thought about those (we can call them “poor unfortunates”) who will be *introduced* to the documentary by way of the stage or the film.

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