Albert Maysles, the narrative filmmaker known for Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens and Salesman, passed on Friday at 88 years old. Maysles will be recognized as a spearheading storyteller who was determined by sympathy and empathy above all. But that legacy will also be perpetually stamped by an act of violence that happened during the taping of ostensibly his most renowned documentary.
Maysles, who worked with his brother David during quite a bit of his career, is known for grasping the cinema verité style of film making. The Maysles brothers immovably rejected the utilization of interviews or narration, favoring rather to tell their subjects’ stories through their own actions and words. Maysles effortlessly gained the trust of his subjects and permitted them to be active participants in forming the story of his movies. “Active participants in shaping the narrative of his films. “The comfort level is so strong right from the moment they see something in your eyes that gives them a feeling that you can be trusted,” Maysles said in a 2011 interview for the podcast Filmwax Radio. “People would much rather disclose than keep a secret.”
Maysles’ independence, authority and aptitude as a movie producer did not come with an outsized sense of ego. Rather, he pointed out the joint efforts and favorable luck that added to the achievement of his films. A true documentary depends entirely on other forces,” he told Rachel Horovitz for Interview magazine. And in the Filmwax Radio interview, Maysles rephrased Alfred Hitchcock: “In a fiction film, the director is God. In a nonfiction film, God is the director.”
The Maysles siblings broadly demanded that Charlotte Zwerin, who altered Salesman and Gimme Shelter be given co-executive credit, an amazingly uncommon event in American film.
Maysles rejected the way of life of a celebrity, regardless of some of the time having well known subjects. “When I film a famous person, it’s really as I would an ordinary one,” he told Horowitz. “And then you get into the commonality in us all, whether rich or poor, celebrity or not.”
In May 2002 the New York Times referred to Albert as “the dean of documentary film making”. Two of their films, Salesman and Grey Gardens, have been preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.
In 2005, Albert Maysles founded the Maysles Documentary Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films that inspire dialogue and action in Harlem.
David Maysles, the younger brother, died of a stroke on January 3, 1987, aged 55, in new York City while Albert Maysles died at his home in Manhattan on March 5, 2015, aged 88.