Monday, April 5, 2010

Albert & David Maysles: Direct Cinema

“We have built our reputation by confronting the actual world.”

The above quote came from a letter penned by Albert and David Maysles to the New York Times. The Maysles brothers were a documentary film making team the made what they called, Direct Cinema, which has been described as the cinematic equivalent of a non-fiction novel. The brothers David and Albert, along with the partner Charlotte Zwerin made over twenty films of the course of two decades.

Albert was born on November, 26, 1926 in Brookline, Massachusetts. In 1949 he graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelors degree in psychology. He would receive a masters degree from Boston University, where he would later teach. In 1955 Albert made his first documentary entitled Psychiatry in Russia. Albert was once called “the best American cameraman” by Jean-Luc Godard. In 2001 Albert received the Sundance Film festival's Excellence in Cinematography Award for his lensing of LaLee's Kin: Legacy of Cotton.

David Maysles, who was born in Brookline, Mass on January 10, 1931 and died January 23, 1987 in New York of a stroke, teamed up with his brother for the first time in 1962. The Maysles brothers, along with various partners and contributors played an important role in the development of the cinema verite style of documentary film making. Some of the key films they made together include, Salesman (1968), which follows four traveling salesman as they try to sell expensive bibles in low income neighborhoods throughout New England and Florida. Gimme Shelter (1970), is a documentary amount the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway. The film and the concert itself, can be viewed as a symbolic end of the 1960's. It is also famous for having captured on film the stabbing of an African American concert goer by members of the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club. Grey Gardens (1976), is the story of Big and Little Edith Beale, who were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and their reclusive lives living in squalor in their dilapidated East Hampton mansion known as Grey Gardens. The Maysles brothers 1964 film on the Beatles originally titled What's Happening! The Beatles Visit America, which forms the backbone of the DVD The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit, can be viewed as the beginning of the 1960's and is a complimentary piece to Gimme Shelter.

The Maysles brothers film making partnership ended with David's death at the age of 54, but Albert continues to make films and contribute to their legacy. In 2005, Albert founded the Maysles Institute, which is a nonprofit organization that provides training and apprenticeships to underprivileged people. Also in 2005, Albert was given a lifetime achievement award at the Czech film festival, AFO (Academia Film Olomouc). Currently, he is working on an autobiographical documentary.

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