On DVD: ‘Grey Gardens’ yet another outstanding HBO film

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 12:00am
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While 'Grey Gardens,' which stars Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, didn't draw record numbers, the hope is the HBO film will get renewed interest when it debuts this week on DVD.

HBO has not only become the location for many of television’s most prestigious series and documentaries, but it has increasingly produced some outstanding feature films as well.

One of these was their recent Grey Gardens, an updated and revised version focusing on an eccentric mother/daughter tandem originally profiled in a wonderful documentary called The Beales of Grey Gardens made by the Maysles Brothers.

Both their film and the recent HBO focused on the lives of Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and first cousin, both of whom were named Edith Bouvier Beale. The mother and daughter were identified via the nicknames “Big Edie” and “Little Edie.”

HBO’s production Grey Gardens, which comes to DVD this week (HBO) co-stars Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as the two Edith Bouvier Beales. They were such an odd and eccentric pair that they chose to exile themselves away from the New York society types they had been raised around, opting instead to spend most of their time at a Long Island summer home called “Grey Gardens.”

The film explores their lives, relationships,, and fall from grace when fiscal misfortunes called them to lose most of their wealth, before Jackie Kennedy personally intervened to keep them from complete disaster.

Both Lange and Barrymore earned plaudits for their portrayals, and though the film didn’t get the huge ratings of some other HBO specials, it was certainly as well produced, acted and directed. Its DVD release will hopefully generate new attention to a project that was among the smarter and more entertaining works of its kind in recent memory.

John Mayberry’s The Edge of Love (Image) was another well done period piece project that didn’t get either extensive pre-release publicity or a lengthy stay in the theaters despite its obvious merit. The subject matter was no doubt deemed a bit heavy and esoteric, even though the notion of a love dilemma doesn’t exactly seem like something thematically radical.

But when your locale is World War II London and your major subject is the legendary poet Dylan Thomas, that’s not exactly potent commercial material. The film highlighted the unusual bond between Thomas (Matthew Rhys), his far-ahead-of-her time wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller) and his former teen love Vera (Keira Knightley), who reconnects with Thomas and actually becomes very close to both Thomas and his wife.

But things turn ugly when Vera’s husband (Cillian Murphy) takes a very unenlightened approach toward this situation, creating a string of events leading to some dire consequences for everyone involved.

Crisply acted and superbly filmed, The Edge of Love proved a cult favorite, despite not posting huge box office numbers. The DVD should find a good audience, particularly among fans of both exotic cinematography and faithful recreations involving major names from past eras.

TV on DVD

One of the year’s surprise hits among TV DVD boxed sets was the first installment of the landmark ‘60s primetime soap opera Peyton Place. Younger audiences found themselves enthralled watching controversies about infidelity and abortion from earlier decades, while seeing the foundation for what later was incorporated into everything from Dallas and Dynasty to Melrose Place and 90210.

This week Peyton Place: Part Two (Shout! Factory), another five-disc boxed set, continues the show’s exploits with 33 more half-hour episodes.

Since Peyton Place ran for five seasons like a soap opera, continuously without repeats through the summer, the show is coming to DVD in this fashion. The program’s main storyline continued to showcase the triangle between Allison MacKenzie (Mia Farrow), Rodney Harrington (Ryan O’Neal) and Betty Anderson (Barbara Parkins).

While the good girl/bad girl conflict could get a bit heavy, the show was enormously popular and groundbreaking in its day, and these episodes still hold up favorably in terms of writing and acting.

The roots of contemporary primetime soap operas (especially a show like Grey's Anatomy) are very evident in Peyton Place, and the second installment provides another welcome walk down memory lane.