You might want to protest that a sparkling new print of Grey Gardens violates the point of Grey Gardens. But if you feel strongly about it -- or if you've never had the chance to witness the Fall of the House of Beale on a big screen -- there's no excuse to miss the restoration of Albert and David Maysles's 1976 study of spirited decrepitude. Shot on 16mm, and still grainy, the story of the two generations of Ediths swanning and singing about their crumbling mansion remains elusive and dreamlike, no matter how its corners have been brightened.
The chance to apprehend the precise blackness of the stains on Big Edith's mattress is no revelation, of course. But Grey Gardens the film and Grey Gardens the East Hampton home both feel sunnier, now, a little more welcoming, as do the lives of the women who haunt them. The Maysleses' verite doc has always played as tragedy, comedy, horror, character study, and crackpot cabaret show, but this restoration feels as if it opens the blinds and sprays some Febreze, so that the film now lists just a touch more toward cheeriness.
Watching it, feasting on its many small revelations, you might feel like one of those raccoons that snack upon the Wonder Bread that Edie the Younger dumps in the estate's attic — what exactly is it that we scavenge from the lives of the Ediths? There's inspiration to be found in them, of course: As the Hamptons crowd shuddered, and the tabloids giggled, this once well-off duo, abandoned by the men in Big Edith's life, survived together in codependent defiance, insistent on their dignity and worth even when infested with fleas.