When Little Edie, towards the end of the film, enters the room and complains of its condition, she begins the following exchange, the two women’s “lines” overlapping at points:
Little Edie: Your room is terribly dirty; it’s got to be cleaned.
Big Edie: Not tonight Geraldine.
Little Edie: It’s a horrible smell. I can hardly sit here.
Big Edie: I love that smell. I strive on it. It makes me feel good.
Little Edie: We have to hang the portraits and clean the room.
Big Edie: No! Pull the chair out! He wants to look at it. I’m not ashamed of anything. Where my body is is a very precious place. It’s concentrated ground.
At the end of this exchange, the camera focuses on Big Edie and slides off to rest its gaze on her portrait (to which attention is given at earlier key moments in the film) in time for her phrase “concentrated ground” to be placed, so to speak, on top of the painted image. From behind the camera, offscreen, we hear one of the Maysles, perhaps only thinking aloud, try to correct Big Edie: “Consecrated,” he says (though he doesn’t correct her use of “strive”). But Big Edie, in fact, is right: the lives of these women in this house, and the film itself are all studies in an intensity, density, and specificity of being in one place in a particular time in a particular manner.
- ’Concentrated Ground’: Grey Gardens and the Cinema of the Domestic