10 Culturally Iconic Moments in the Career of Albert Maysles (1926 - 2015)
Though he never received the appreciation of his peers, documentarian Albert Maysles' mark on the genre remains indelible, and important. Here are 10 reasons why.
He never won an Oscar. His only nomination came in 1974, for one of several films focusing on a notorious conceptual artist and his sometimes baffling works. Yet with his passing at age 88 last week, Albert Maysles leaves behind a legacy worthy of the artform's founding. Embracing the French concept of cinéma vérité, the late great documentary director and his equally gifted brother developed their "direct cinema" technique, playing fly-on-the-wall as personalities and events played out before them.
There was no agenda, no voice-over narration to provide a specific point of view. The Maysles let their subjects speak for themselves, and in doing so they uncovered information a formal interview would never provide.
Albert and his younger brother David were born to Jewish immigrant parents in Boston, Massachusetts. The older sibling never really had any intention of being a filmmaker. He got a degree in Arts from Boston University and ended up teaching psychology for three years. On a trip to Russia to photograph a mental hospital, Albert was struck by the potential story there. He returned the next year with a movie camera, the result being his first official documentary, Psychiatry in Russia. From there, it was one historic movie after another, in addition to more TV titles. He worked with Robert Drew as a cameraman on the influential political film Primary where he further developed his style and technique.
But it was the late '60s where Albert and David truly shined. Over a period of ten years, they offered overviews of Marlon Brando, Truman Capote, Leonard Bernstein and Isaac Stern, the Rolling Stones, and most memorably Big Edie and Little Edith Beale, relatives of Jackie-O. These films have now become the benchmarks for the brothers' "no interfering" style. In fact, Albert often said that it was not the movie that was important, but the people in it. Now, with his death, an iconic figure in the world of film is gone, though the style he helped invent remains a solid part of the documentary aesthetic.
It's with that in mind that we highlight ten pop culture milestones created and/or aided by Albert Maysles. Along with his collaborators, he showed cinephiles that the old adages -- truth is stranger than fiction, being at the right place at the right time -- results in fabulous, fascinating film.