"When I was 19, my girlfriend and I were going to study in Paris. Our boyfriends came to the docks to see us off. Right as we were getting on the ship, my friend’s boyfriend said to her: ‘If you go, I won’t wait for you.’ So she turned around and decided to stay. My fiance saw this and told me: ‘I won’t wait for you either.’ I said: ‘Don’t!’”
When the Maysles arrived in the early 1970s, Little Edie had spent the previous two decades hidden from the world and increasingly was wearing a wardrobe that she had, by necessity, repurposed for her own ends. Her life, then, can be divided into two periods: the first three-and-a-half decades in the trappings of public glamour and visible wealth, and the following two decades in private squalor and hidden poverty.
Yet, she seems almost instinctively to have known how to engage the Maysles’ camera, as if the previous two decades had not occurred, and perhaps viewers find her presence in the film to be so compelling because she appears— literally— to be unaware that the relation she has to herself and to others through her body and through fashion is more appropriate to the role a younger woman is expected to inhabit.
Put another way, Little Edie’s twenty years of privation before making the film have prevented her from aging in the more customary manner, where her sense of self might increasingly be divorced from her embrace of her physical presence and the delight she takes in clothing. Her allure derives from the unanticipated discovery that she does not obey the demands of the fashion and culture industries to abandon those ostensibly youthful delights in the corporeal and the sartorial.