Film11 Mar 2015
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.
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5. The Christo Films
Throughout the late '50s and up through the early '80s, the famed conceptual artist (with the help of wife and partner Jeanne-Claude) made headlines with insane temporary art installations. From draping a nine ton orange nylon veil between two mountain peaks to using six point five million square feet of pink fabric to encapsulate eleven Florida islands, Christo's work became the embodiment of the post-modern movement in its outsider aesthetic. The Maysles were there every step of the way, documenting the trials and tribulations of his efforts for posterity. The six collaborations between them mark a truly important moment in both artforms.
4. What's Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A.
Few got to see the Fab Four "unexpurgated". From the moment they landed on our shores, their image was carefully protected to keep the fans frantic and the naysayers quiet. Luckily, the Maysles (with help) had access to the group for this no-holds barred overview from the moment they touched down at JFK airport in New York to their triumph return to England after The Ed Sullivan Show appearance. Over five days, we see a collection of very young men attempting to adjust to fame and the frenzy that follows it. More than just a look behind the scenes, we gain a glimpse of the lads themselves as well.
Paul "The Badger" Brennan, Charles "The Gipper" McDevitt, James "The Rabbit" Baker, and Raymond "The Bull" Martos are door-to-door Bible hucksters who we watch working in and around Boston before moving onto a convention in Chicago and a new -- and very promising -- territory: Miami. Each has earned a nickname based on their particular style of selling, and thanks to the direct cinema technique the Maysles employ, they speak for themselves in ways no narrative could decipher. It's all about the pitch, the modification of the spiel to the specific economic and education levels of those being approached. In the end, we learn more about them than their product.
2. Gimme Shelter
Of the two main masterpieces that make up the Maysles' mythos, this is the most disturbing and direct. When the Rolling Stones decided to make-up for being MIA at Woodstock, they planned a concert in California that had disaster written all over it. From venue issues to security concerns, the group hired the Maysles to capture it all, including the lethal stabbing of a concertgoer by a member of the Hells Angels. While the musical sequences are special, nothing is more compelling than the moment when the filmmakers find the crime and then show it to the members of the band. Their reactions turn the movie from profound to priceless.
1. Grey Gardens/The Beales of Grey Gardens
Talk about hitting the jackpot. When the Maysles read that relatives of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis were living in squalor in a rundown Hamptons manor complete with holes in the roof and wildlife infestations, they immediately grabbed the cameras in order to capture the chaos. What they found, instead, were two fading socialites eager to pose for their lens -- and argue incessantly -- about who among them was responsible for their lack of legitimacy and fame. While Big Edie enjoys time with her cats, 59 year old Little Edie thinks she can still be a Hollywood starlet. The subjects were so compelling they became the source for books, movies, and even a musical. But it was the Maysles' two films that functioned as a love letter to their formidable fall from grace.