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Albert Maysles

Albert Maysles

Joe McElhaney
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Albert Maysles
    Book Description:

    Albert Maysles has created some of the most influential documentaries of the postwar period. Such films as Salesman, Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens continue to generate intense debate about the ethics and aesthetics of the documentary form. A pioneer in the development of the "nonfiction feature," as well as a central figure in the history of direct cinema, his innovations have inspired Jean-Luc Godard to call Maysles "the best American cameraman." His films about Bulgarian artist Christo's large-scale art installations, including the Academy Award-nominated Christo's Valley Curtain, have often been described as among the greatest documentaries ever made about the process of creating art._x000B__x000B_In this in-depth study, Joe McElhaney offers a novel understanding of the historical relevance of Maysles. By closely focusing on Maysles's expressive use of his camera, particularly in relation to the filming of the human figure, this book situates Maysles's films within not only documentary film history but film history in general, arguing for their broad-ranging importance to both narrative film and documentary cinema. Complete with an engaging interview with Maysles and a detailed comparison of the variant releases of his documentary on the Beatles (What's Happening: The Beatles in the U.S.A. and The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit), this work is a pivotal study of a significant filmmaker.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09188-9
    Subjects: Film Studies, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    • [Introduction]
      (pp. 1-32)

      Within the history of documentary cinema, the name Albert Maysles has assumed near-mythical status. Maysles, usually in collaboration with his brother David, was a central figure in some of the most important documentaries of the 1960s and 1970s, culminating with three featurelength films that continue to generate intense debate about the ethics and aesthetics of documentary form:Salesman(1969),Gimme Shelter(1970), andGrey Gardens(1975). The series of Maysles films dealing with Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s large-scale art projects, including the Academy Award–nominatedChristo’s Valley Curtain(1973), have been described as among the greatest documentaries ever made about the...

    • Hard-Working People: Salesman, Showman, and Meet Marlon Brando
      (pp. 33-63)

      At the beginning ofMeet Marlon Brando,Brando talks to a group of journalists about the various jobs he might have had if he had not become an actor. He also discusses his brief stint at manual labor, declaring, “I hated that.” Becoming an actor allows Brando to avoid the drudgery of manual labor. But acting still involves work, in particular the selling of oneself and of the finished product in which one has acted through the machinery of publicity and advertising. “Every time we get in front of the television,” he says, “everybody starts hustling.”

      This section will focus...

    • “It’s a Funny Place, This America”: What’s Happening: The Beatles in the USA and Gimme Shelter
      (pp. 63-90)

      Although Maysles’s cinema is often structured upon a confrontation between worlds, it is equally drawn to representing large social collectives, since collectives allow for the possibility of a resolution to the problems posed by this initial confrontation. One can see this realized in a particularly complex manner in two films that are at once closely linked and markedly different from one another,What’s Happening: The Beatles in the USAandGimme Shelter.Both films involve British rock bands, respectively the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, coming to America and facing a new world that turns out to be stranger and,...

    • “I Feel Something Slipping”: Grey Gardens, The Burk Family of Georgia, and Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton
      (pp. 91-135)

      Virtually all of the Maysles brothers’ films fromShowmanthroughGimme Sheltercenter on male figures; the women in these films often assume subordinate roles to the central drives and desires of the men. Nevertheless, the women also threaten to unsettle these worlds dominated (however precariously) by the men. The destiny of the Bible salesmen, for example, often hinges on the acceptance or refusal of the women customers to buy their gilded, unnecessary religious products; and the teenage girls ofWhat’s Happeningturn their Beatlemania into a spectacle that is more galvanizing than the Beatles themselves as the girls are...

    • Democratic Art Forms: A Visit with Truman Capote, A Journey to Jerusalem, Muhammad and Larry, Ozawa, Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic, Horowitz Plays Mozart, Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia, and the Christo and Jeanne-Claude Films
      (pp. 135-156)

      In 1973, the Maysles brothers were asked by the Bulgarian artist Christo Javacheff and his collaborator and wife Jeanne-Claude to film them at work installing their latest project,Valley Curtain in Rifle, Colorado—a mammoth orange canvas stretched across a valley in a small Colorado town.Christo’s Valley Curtain,running only twenty-eight minutes, is one of the most widely praised of the Maysles brothers’ films. It is a visually beautiful work, masterfully edited by the codirector, Ellen Hovde. While made betweenGimme ShelterandGrey Gardens, Christo’s Valley Curtainmore properly belongs to—and in some ways initiates—the later...

  5. Interview with Albert Maysles
    (pp. 157-174)

    This interview was conducted in the office of Maysles Films, Inc., on West Fifty-fourth Street in Manhattan in February 2006. (Their office has since moved to Lenox Avenue in Harlem.) Maysles had no private office there (nor, for that matter, does he have one in the Lenox Avenue space). The interview was done at his desk, which sat near the back of the office’s large loft space. As we spoke, business went on as usual around us, with numerous employees and interns working at their desks, talking to one another, and answering telephones (all of this being picked up by...

  6. Appendix: A Comparison of What’s Happening: The Beatles in the USA and The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit
    (pp. 175-180)
  7. Filmography
    (pp. 181-192)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-198)
  9. Index
    (pp. 199-206)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-211)