MAYSLES, Albert and David Paul






Nationality: American. Born: Albert born in Brookline, Massachusetts, 26 November 1926; David Paul born in Brookline, 10 January 1932. Education: Albert attended Brookline High School; Syracuse University, New York, degree in psychology; Boston University, M.A. in psychology. David attended Brookline High School; Boston University, degree in psychology. Military Service: During World War II, Albert served in U.S. Army Tank Corps, David served in the Army at Headquarters, Military Intelligence school, Oberammergau, Germany. Family: David married Judy (Maysles), one son, one daughter. Career: Albert taught psychology at Boston University, from late 1940s, then travelled to Russia to make first film, 1955; David worked as production assistant on Bus Stop and The Prince and the Showgirl , 1956; they make first film together, 1957; David worked as reporter on Adventures on the New Frontier for TV, late 1950s and early 1960s; Albert worked as cameraman for Richard Leacock, 1960; formed production company together and made first film, 1962; Albert worked as cameraman on one section of Godard's

Albert (left) and David Paul Maysles, with Charlotte Zwerin
Albert (left) and David Paul Maysles, with Charlotte Zwerin
Paris vu par , and the brothers received Guggenheim fellowship in experimental film, 1965; continued making full-length documentaries and industrial and corporate promotional films together, from 1970. Awards: Academy Award nomination, Best Dramatic Short, for Christo's Valley Curtain , 1972; Emmy Award, for Horowitz Plays Mozart , 1987. Died: David Maysles died in New York, 3 January 1987.


Films as Directors:

1955

Psychiatry in Russia (Albert only)

1957

Youth in Poland

1960

Primary (Albert only, co-d)

1962

Showman

1964

What's Happening: The Beatles in the USA ( Yeah Yeah Yeah, The Beatles! The First U.S. Visit )

1965

Meet Marlon Brando

1966

With Love from Truman

1969

Salesman (co-d)

1970

Gimme Shelter (co-d)

1972

Christo's Valley Curtain (co-d)

1975

Grey Gardens (co-d)

1977

Running Fence (co-d)

1980

Muhammad and Larry

1984

Islands (co-d)

1986

Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic ; Ozawa (co-d)

1987

Horowitz Plays Mozart (Albert only, co-d)

1989

Jessye Norman Sings Carmen (Albert only, co-d)

1991

Christo in Paris (Albert only)

1992

Baroque Diet (Albert only); Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit '92 (Albert only)

1993

Abortion: Desperate Choices (Albert only, co-d)

1994

Umbrellas (Albert only, co-d)

Publications


By the MAYSLES: articles—

Interview, in Movie (London), April 1963.

Interview with Bob Sitton, in Film Library Quarterly (New York), Summer 1969.

"Albert and David Maysles," in Documentary Explorations , edited by G. Roy Levin, Garden City, New York, 1971.

Interview with R. P. Kolker, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1971.

" Gimme Shelter : Production Notes," in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), December 1971.

"Financing the Independent Non-Fiction Film," interview, in Millimeter (New York), June 1978.

"'Truthful Witness': An Interview with Albert Maysles," with H. Naficy, in Quarterly Review of Film Studies (Pleasantville, New York), Spring 1981.

"'Doco direct' et Albert Maysles," interview with Jane Castle, in Filmnews , vol. 16, no. 3, June 1986.

Diamond, Jamie, "Albert Maysles' Camera Sees and Says It All," in New York Times , 13 February 1994.

"The Making of Concept of Wills : Making the Getty Center," interview in International Documentary (Los Angeles), vol. 16, no. 12, December 1997.


On the MAYSLES: books—

Issari, M. Ali, Cinema Verité , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1971.

Issari, M. Ali, and Doris A. Paul, What Is Cinéma Vérité , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1979.


On the MAYSLES: articles—

Heleff, Maxine, "The Maysles Brothers and Direct Cinema," in Film Comment (New York), no. 2, 1964.

Blue, James, "Thoughts on Cinéma Vérité and a Discussion with the Maysles Brothers," in Film Comment (New York), no. 4, 1964.

"Maysles Brothers," in Film Culture (New York), Fall 1966.

Steele, Robert, " Meet Marlon Brando ," in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Fall 1966.

Rosenthal, Alan, " Salesman ," in The New Documentary in Action: A Casebook in Film Making , Berkeley, California, 1971.

Sadkin, David, " Gimme Shelter : A Corkscrew or a Cathedral?," in Film News (New York), December 1971.

Safier, A. M., "Shooting Hidden Camera/Real People Spots," in Millimeter (New York), April 1979.

Robson, K. J., "The Crystal Formation: Narrative Structure in Grey Gardens ," in Cinema Journal (Chicago), Winter 1983.

Barsam, R. M., "American Direct Cinema: The Re-Presentation of Reality," in Persistence of Vision (Maspeth, New York), Summer 1986.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), 7 January 1987.

Biofilmography, in Film Dope (London), March 1989.

Owen, D., "The Maysles Brothers," in Film Dope (Nottingham), no. 41, March 1989.

Elliott, Stuart, "In Creating a Spot, Many Say There's Nothing like the Real Thing," in The New York Times , 26 November 1993.

"The Making of Concept of Wills : Making the Getty Center," interview in International Documentary (Los Angeles), vol. 16, no. 12, December 1997.


* * *


Shooting unobtrusively in sync sound with no instructions to the subject, the Maysles brothers made films in what they preferred to call "direct cinema." Albert, gifted photographer and director of all their projects, carried the lightweight, silent camera that he perfected on his shoulder, its accessories built in and ready for adjustment. Maysles characters, who occasionally talk to the filmmakers on screen, seem astonishingly unaware that strangers and apparatus are in the room.

David, the soundman, carried a sensitive directional mike and a Nagra recorder unattached to the camera. He was often involved in the editing and as producer had final say. During the shooting a story might become apparent, or a dominant character may surface. These elements may become clear only as the editors examine, cut, and structure the vast amounts of footage that they receive in the dailies.

In 1962, a time when Albert had acquired brief experience in documentary filmmaking and David had garnered a similar amount of experience in Hollywood feature films, they formed a partnership committed to direct cinema. Commercials and industrial filmmaking supported their preferred activity from time to time.

The company's production of two feature documentaries (which they distributed commercially), Salesman , a study of four bible salesmen, and Grey Gardens , an essay on two eccentric women, fed the constant discussions between documentarists and critics about whether objectivity is at all possible in documentaries. Both films were charged with dishonesty, exploitation, and tastelessness, but other quarters praised the Maysles' sensitivity, rapport with their subjects, and choice of situations that viewers could identify with.

The Maysles sought to answer the criticism and describe their philosophy and working methods at screenings of their films, in articles, and in letters to editors. Their instinct took them, they said, to situations related to closeness between human beings, and pointed out that they could not do films about people they dislike. They looked on their work as a discovery of how people really are, first spending time with them to get acquainted, then filming their lives as lived. All their subjects agreed to the project under consideration beforehand, and several have spoken of their satisfaction with the finished film and their good relationship with Albert and David, whom they trusted.

The Maysles did not deny that their choices affected their creation in some way. Their methodology, for example, meant that much footage must be discarded. They emphasized that nothing was staged, a structure that eventually emerges from the material. In their own work they saw a relationship to Truman Capote's concepts and methods for his "non-fiction novel": discarding preconceptions about their subjects, while concentrating on learning about them and understanding their motivations and feelings.

Albert and David Maysles have an important place in the history of the documentary for many reasons. They produced a large, varied, evocative body of work in their chosen style, as very active members of their own small company. Despite some severe criticism of their work, they are admired, and probably envied for qualities that Americans value. Directly influential or not on documentaries today, their work is certainly part of the flow of films that aim to show the truth about contemporary problems. While many other filmmakers' reports and studies embrace large communities, or even whole countries, Maysles productions are about individuals and their concerns, which often illuminate larger aspects of society as well as its general attitudes toward non-traditional behavior.

Since David Maysles' death, Albert has continued turning out documentaries, mostly collaborating with Susan Froemke, Charlotte Zwerin, and Deborah Dickson. His subjects are as varied as when he worked with his brother, ranging from classical music ( Horowitz Plays Mozart, Jessye Norman Sings Carmen ) to social issues ( Abortion: Desperate Choices , which traces the history of abortion in America) to attempts by artists to realize their visions. One of these efforts, Christo in Paris , chronicles the artist Christo's efforts to wrap Paris' Pont-Neuf Bridge; two decades earlier, Albert and David had made Christo's Valley Curtain , in which the artist tried to hang an orange curtain over a valley.

—Lillian Schiff, updated by Rob Edelman



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