Albert Maysles


Director, Documentarian, Producer

About

Also Known As
Al Maysles, Albert H. Maysles
Birth Place
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Born
November 26, 1926
Died
March 05, 2015
Cause of Death
Natural Causes

Biography

Alongside his brother David, Albert Maysles became one of the chief exponents of the cinema verité school of documentary filmmaking. After starting his documentary career with films about mental health in Russia and student revolt in Poland, the Maysles brothers joined forces with Richard Leacock, Robert Drew and D.A. Pennebaker to make a series of films, most notably "Primary" (1960), w...

Family & Companions

Gilian Walker
Wife
Married on September 14, 1976.

Notes

"People sense--from the way you handle the camera, even the way you introduce yourself--if you're going to intrude on them or hurt them. They sense when you are really paying attention. To attend means to wait. That perfectly describes what we do." --Albert Maysles quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, February 13, 1994

"As a child, I didn't speak. It wasn't a deformity. I was just extremely quiet. No one knew if I was broght or dumb, so I had to repeat kindergarten. But my personality made me an avid listener, which served me well." --Albert Mayseles quoted in AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER, January 1998

Biography

Alongside his brother David, Albert Maysles became one of the chief exponents of the cinema verité school of documentary filmmaking. After starting his documentary career with films about mental health in Russia and student revolt in Poland, the Maysles brothers joined forces with Richard Leacock, Robert Drew and D.A. Pennebaker to make a series of films, most notably "Primary" (1960), which followed the Democratic primaries between John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey in Wisconsin, and revolutionized the way documentaries are made. Turning to music, he directed "What's Happening! The Beatles in the USA" (1964) and later made the controversial Rolling Stones film, "Gimme Shelter" (1970), which documented the band's headlining performance at the violence-plagued Altamont Free Concert and captured the fatal stabbing of a concertgoer. In the following decade, the Maysles courted more controversy with "Grey Gardens" (1976), a disturbing look at co-dependency between a mother and daughter that was later turned into a Broadway musical and an Emmy-winning HBO film. Following the death of brother David in 1987, Maysles earned an Oscar nomination for "LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton" (2001) while making cable films covering everything from abortion and hospice care to Paul McCartney's 9/11 benefit concert in New York City, solidifying his status as one of documentary filmmaking's most celebrated pioneers. He died of natural causes at the age of 88 on March 5, 2015.

Born on Nov. 26, 1926 in the Dorchester area of Boston and raised in nearly Brookline, Maysles and his younger brother David were raised by their Russian immigrant parents, Philip, a postal worker, and Ethel, a schoolteacher. Developing an early interest in photography, Albert purchased his first camera when he was seven years old and sparked a lifelong fascination with images. Later in life, he entered World War II and served with the Army tank corps, before earning his bachelor's degree from Syracuse University upon his return. Maysles moved on to earn a master's from Boston University and spent the next three years teaching psychology. In 1954, he went to the Soviet Union to study their mental healthcare system and shoot photographs inside their mental hospitals. Although he was unsuccessful in selling those pictures, he managed to obtain a movie camera from CBS the following year and on a return visit, shot his first documentary, "Psychiatry in Russia" (1955). While no network touched the finished product, he did find an outlet at Boston's public television station WGBH which aired the documentary. Meanwhile, he and his brother David shot footage of a student revolt in Poland which aired as "Youth of Poland" (NBC, 1957).

Shortly thereafter, Albert and David met D.A. Pennebaker, who in turn introduced them to Drew and Leacock, and the filmmakers formed Drew Associates, a co-op where they shared both manpower and resources while collaborating on a number of films. One of his most significant contributions was serving as cinematographer and director of "Primary" (1960), a landmark political documentary that focused on the 1960 Democratic primaries between candidates John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey in Wisconsin. The film was a huge breakthrough in documentary filmmaking because of their use of mobile cameras and lighter sound equipment, which allowed for greater intimacy and revolutionized the way documentaries were made. After "Primary," the Maysles were selected by Grenada Television to shoot the U.S. arrival of a British rock-n-roll phenomenon, The Beatles, resulting in "What's Happening! The Beatles in the USA" (1964). Although there was interest in studio distribution, the band's contract to make "A Hard Day's Night" precluded any widespread showings. Meanwhile, CBS purchased a shortened version and aired it with narration provided by Carol Burnett.

Hired by 20th Century Fox to film Marlon Brando to promote "Morituri" (1965), the Maysles pieced together the footage for their own film, "Meet Marlon Brando" (1965), an intimate look at the enigmatic actor that covered everything from his women and celebrity to the plight of Native Americas. Often collaborating with director-editor Charlotte Zwerin, the Maysles produced one of their best known works, "Salesman" (1968), a look at door-to-door Bible sellers in Boston, which for various reasons also did not gain widespread exposure until a 1994 airing on PBS. From there, they made arguably their greatest and most widely popular documentary, "Gimme Shelter" (1970), a controversial look at the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, the West Coast's answer to Woodstock. Filmed in December 1969 at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California, "Gimme Shelter" spent much of its focus on one band, The Rolling Stones, who headlined and organized the event, which also featured Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and others. Mired by violence in part fueled by the Hells Angels, who were hired by the Stones as security, Altamont took a tragic turn when concertgoer Meredith Hunter pulled a gun during a melee in front of the stage and was stabbed six times by Hells Angels members, resulting in his death. Caught on film by the Maysles, Hunter's death stirred controversy over the filmmaker's status as detached observers, but more importantly helped mark a symbolic end to the days of peace and love.

Meanwhile, the Maysles received their sole Oscar nomination in 1973 for the first of several collaborations with the artist Christo, "Christo's Valley Curtain" (1973), which explored the artist hanging a nine-ton orange nylon fabric across 400-meters of Rifle Gap, CO using steel cables, iron bars and 200 tons of concrete. After a failed 1971 attempt that was destroyed by wind and rock, Christo managed to successfully hang a cloth the following year, only to watch as 60 mile-an-hour winds destroyed the fabric less than 30 hours later. . As with "Gimme Shelter," the Maysles' next full-length documentary effort, "Grey Gardens" (1976), sparked controversy for their portrait of the Beales, a mother-daughter duo living in seclusion in a rundown East Hampton mansion who were distantly related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. A pathetic, but ultimately human look at two women who share their home with a multitude of felines, the film was a fascinating depiction of co-dependence and resentment, with particular emphasis on the mother-daughter dynamic. At the time of its release, "Grey Gardens" divided critics, some of whom praised it as one of the year's best films, while others found it tasteless and exploitative of two obviously mentally ill women living in both filth and in their once glamorous pasts. But the subject proved popular for other mediums, resulting in a 2006 Broadway musical and an Emmy-winning 2009 HBO movie starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. Also at the time, Maysles served as a camera operator on "The Grateful Dead Movie" (1977), which documented the band's five-night stand at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom in October 1974 before their 19-month long hiatus.

After directing "Christo's Running Fence" (1978), which documented the artist's attempt to erect a 24-mile long fabric fence along ranch land in California, the Maysles turned to the sports world with "Muhammad and Larry" (1980), which explored the rivalry between heavyweight boxers Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. With his brother serving as director, Maysles shot "Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic" (1985), a private look at the life and career of the late piano virtuoso. After collaborating on "Ozawa" (1986) and "Islands" (1986), Maysles lost his brother David to a stroke in 1987 and subsequently partnered with Susan Froemke on a series of made-for-cable documentaries, including "Abortion: Desperate Choices" (HBO, 1992) and "Letting Go: A Hospice Journey" (HBO, 1996). Following his chronicle of the development of the Los Angeles Center in "Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center" (1997), Maysles significantly slowed down his output, but earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary with "LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton" (2001), which followed the hardscrabble life of a poor, illiterate descendant of slaves whose life is dependent on the cotton industry. He went on to direct "Rufus Wainwright - Milwaukee at Last" (2009), which documented the making of the singer-songwriter's seventh album, and "The Love We Make" (2011), a look at Paul McCartney's October 2001 benefit concert in New York following the 9/11 attacks that was released for the 10th anniversary of the events. Maysles' next feature-length documentary was "Iris" (2014), a portrait of interior designer and fashion icon Iris Apfel. Working as a cameraman and director up until the end, Albert Maysles died of natural causes at his Manhattan home at the age of 88 on March 5, 2015.

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Iris (2014)
Director
The Love We Make (2011)
Director
The Gates (2008)
Director
The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006)
Director
Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center (1998)
Director
Umbrellas (1993)
Director
Christo in Paris (1990)
Director
Islands (1987)
Director
Vladimir Horowitz, The Last Romantic (1985)
Director
Running Fence (1978)
Director
Grey Gardens (1976)
Director
La Pupa del gangster (1974)
Director
Christo's Valley Curtain (1973)
Director
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Director
What's Happening (1970)
Director
Salesman (1969)
Director
Showman (1962)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Wild Blue Yonder (2008)
A Walk into the Sea (2007)
Manufacturing Dissent (2007)
Tell Them Who You Are (2004)
Himself
Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment (1999)

Cinematography (Feature Film)

The Love We Make (2011)
Cinematographer
South of the Border (2010)
Cinematographer
Soul Power (2009)
Cinematographer
A President to Remember: In the Company of John F. Kennedy (2008)
Cinematographer
Four Seasons Lodge (2008)
Cinematographer
The Gates (2008)
Director Of Photography
Shine a Light (2008)
Camera
The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006)
Cinematographer
Gypsy Caravan (2006)
Cinematographer
Stolen (2006)
Cinematographer
In Good Conscience: Sister Jeannine Gramick's Journey of Faith (2004)
Director Of Photography
Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (2001)
Cinematographer
Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center (1998)
Cinematographer
When We Were Kings (1996)
Cinematographer
Deutschen Volke, Dem (1996)
Cinematographer
Umbrellas (1993)
Cinematographer
Christo in Paris (1990)
Cinematographer
Running Fence (1978)
Director Of Photography
The Grateful Dead (1977)
Cinematographer
Grey Gardens (1976)
Cinematographer
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Director of Photography
What's Happening (1970)
Director of Photography
Monterey Pop (1969)
Director of Photography
Salesman (1969)
Director of Photography
Six in Paris (1968)
Photographer for "Montparnasse-Levallois"
A Journey to Jerusalem (1968)
Director of Photography
Showman (1962)
Director Of Photography
Primary (1960)
Camera

Writer (Feature Film)

Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center (1998)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

The Love We Make (2011)
Executive Producer
The Gates (2008)
Producer
Running Fence (1978)
Producer
Grey Gardens (1976)
Producer
What's Happening (1970)
Producer
Salesman (1969)
Producer

Film Production - Main (Feature Film)

Islands (1987)
Photography
Vladimir Horowitz, The Last Romantic (1985)
Photography
Christo's Valley Curtain (1973)
Photography

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

The Love We Make (2011)
Other
Soul Power (2009)
Other
Grey Gardens (2007)
Advisor
Stolen (2006)
Other
Tell Them Who You Are (2004)
Other
Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (2001)
Other
Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (2001)
Co-Director
When We Were Kings (1996)
Other
Deutschen Volke, Dem (1996)
Other
Running Fence (1978)
Other
Grey Gardens (1976)
Other

Director (Special)

With the Filmmaker: Portraits By Albert Maysles (2001)
Director
With the Filmmaker: Portraits By Albert Maysles (2001)
Creator
Letting Go: A Hospice Journey (1996)
Director
Conversations With the Rolling Stones (1994)
Director
Abortion: Desperate Choices (1992)
Director
Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia (1991)
Director
Sports Illustrated: The Making of the Swimsuit Issue (1989)
Director
Horowitz Plays Mozart (1988)
Director
Ozawa (1987)
Director
Adventures on the New Frontier (1961)
Director

Cast (Special)

Mick Jagger: The Ultimate Performer (2001)
The Wild Ride of Outlaw Bikers (1999)
Vladimir Horowitz: A Reminiscence (1994)

Cinematography (Special)

Monterey 40 (2007)
Camera
100 Years of Women (1999)
Cinematographer
Letting Go: A Hospice Journey (1996)
Cinematographer
Accent on the Offbeat (1995)
Director Of Photography
Conversations With the Rolling Stones (1994)
Camera
Let the Good Times Roll (1993)
Cinematographer
Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia (1991)
Cinematographer

Producer (Special)

100 Years of Women (1999)
Executive Producer
Letting Go: A Hospice Journey (1996)
Producer
Conversations With the Rolling Stones (1994)
Executive Producer
Abortion: Desperate Choices (1992)
Producer
James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket (1989)
Executive Producer
Sports Illustrated: The Making of the Swimsuit Issue (1989)
Producer

Misc. Crew (Special)

James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket (1989)
Assistant

Director (Short)

Youth of Poland (1957)
Director

Cinematography (Short)

Sean O'Casey The Spirit of Ireland (1965)
Cinematographer

Producer (Short)

Youth of Poland (1957)
Producer

Film Production - Main (Short)

Youth of Poland (1957)
Photography

Life Events

1952

Taught psychology at Boston University

1955

Went to USSR to study mental health care; began making films

1955

First film (made solo), "Psychiatry in Russia"; aired on WGBH the public television station in Boston

1957

First film made with brother David, "Youth of Poland"

1959

Co-shot D.A. Pennebaker's "Opening in Moscow"

1960

Co-directed an examination of the Democratic campaign for president "Primary"

1962

First Maysles Brothers collaboration with Charlotte Zwerin, "Showman"; also first Maysles Films Inc. production

1964

Photographed Godard's segment ("Montparnasse et Levallois") of omnibus feature, "Paris vu par/Six in Paris"

1964

Helmed the documentary short "What's Happening! The Beatles in America"; never released theatrically; aired instead on CBS with narration by Carol Burnett

1969

Co-directed with brother and Charlotte Zwerin, "Salesman" a portrait of bible sellers in Boston; withheld from audiences for 25 years; finally aired on PBS' "POV" in 1994

1970

Garnered widespread acclaim for "Gimme Shelter" chronicling the Rolling Stones' 1969 US tour

1973

Shared Academy Award nomination for "Christo's Valley Curtain"; also first of several film collaborations with the artist Christo

1974

Worked as cinematographer on Leon Gast's documentary "When We Were Kings" about the Muhammed Ali and George Forman 'Rumble in the Jungle'; film not released until 1996

1990

Last feature collaboration with brother David, "Christo in Paris"; released three years after David's death

1992

Co-directed (also produced) the award-winning HBO documentary "Abortion: Desperate Choices"

1994

Filmed "Conversations With the Rolling Stones" (broadcast on VH-1)

1996

Produced, shot and co-directed the award-winning HBO documentary "Letting Go: A Hospice Journey"

1997

Co-directed with Susan Froemke and Bob Eisenhardt the documentary "Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center"

2001

Profiled directors Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Robert Duvall and Jane Campion in the TV specials "With the Filmmaker: Portraits by Albert Maysles" (PBS)

2001

With Froemke and Deborah Dickson, filmed "LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton"; premiered at Sundance before airing on HBO

2005

Founded the Maysles Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides training and apprenticeships to underprivileged individuals

2007

With Antonio Ferrera, documented a site-specific art installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, "The Gates" in NYC

2008

Joined Martin Scorsese to directed "Shine a Light"; the film documented two 2006 performances that took place during rock and roll band The Rolling Stones' A Bigger Bang tour

2014

Directed "Iris" biopic, about fashion icon Iris Apfel

Videos

Movie Clip

Gimme Shelter (1970) - Wild Horses In Sheffield, Alabama, December 1969 at the Muscle Shoals studio, with engineer Jimmy Johnson, the Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor) listen to the mix of their just-recorded original song, in the Maysles Brothers documentary Gimme Shelter, 1970.
Gimme Shelter (1970) - Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band In The World The opening from directors Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, with Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts horsing around in Birmingham, England on a photo shoot, then joining the Rolling Stones at their Madison Square Garden concert, with a Jagger-Richard composition, in Gimme Shelter, 1970.
Gimme Shelter (1970) - Are You Any More Satisfied? First from the New York concert, then working on the documentary with the Maysles brothers, then Mick Jagger at a press conference, celebrity lawyer Melvin Belli negotiating for the concert, and the Rolling Stones at a Holiday Inn in Sheffield, Alabama, December 1969, in Gimme Shelter, 1970.
Gimme Shelter (1970) - Six Days On The Road Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead tour manager Sam Cutler issuing thanks and seeking order at the Altamont Speedway in Tracy, California, December 6, 1969, as the Flying Burrito Brothers perform, one of their popular covers, before things went wrong, in the documentary Gimme Shelter, 1970.
Salesman (1969) - We Eliminated A Few Men Following the cordial if bleak opening, in which we met bible salesman Paul "The Badger" Brennan and company, producer-directors David and Albert Maysles offer what amounts to a violent transition to the sales meeting, run by boss Kennie Turner, early in the the cinema verite tour de force Salesman, 1969.
Grey Gardens (1976) - I Have To Think These Things Up The opening to the celebrated documentary, producers David and Albert Maysles behind the camera, introducing "Big" Edie (Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale) then her daughter "Little" Edie (Edith Bouvier Beale), at their Long Island home, for which the film is named, the original Grey Gardens, 1976.
Grey Gardens (1976) - Was I A Good Mother? Reclusive one-time Long Island socialites "Big" Edie (Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale) and daughter "Little" Evie (Edith Bouvier Beale) tangling over family photos and history, producers David and Albert Maysles trying to stay out of it, early in the famous original documentary Grey Gardens, 1976.
Salesman (1969) - This Would Be An Inspiration The mesmerizing opening, from producer-directors David and Albert Maysles, with their real-life protagonists Paul Brennan, Charles McDevitt et al, at work selling bibles in Massachusetts, in the landmark cinema verite documentary Salesman, 1969.
Primary (1960) - A Candidate's View The opening of documentarian Robert Drew's first in his series of films chronicling the election and presidency of John F. Kennedy, beginning with senator Hubert H. Humphrey campagning in the Wisconsin primary, in Primary, 1960.
Primary (1960) - If We Can Hold The Darts Senators John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, campaigning in the Democratic Presidential Primary in Wisconsin, early 1960, from Robert Drew's documentary Primary, 1960.

Trailer

Family

Ethel Maysles
Mother
Schoolteacher. Died c. 1974.
Philip Maysles
Father
Postal clerk. Russian-Jewish immigrant.
Barbara Maysles
Sister
Artist. Older.
David Maysles
Brother
Filmmaker. Younger; born in 1932; died of a stroke in 1987.
Rebekah Maysles
Daughter
Philip Maysles
Son
Sara Maysles
Daughter

Companions

Gilian Walker
Wife
Married on September 14, 1976.

Bibliography

Notes

"People sense--from the way you handle the camera, even the way you introduce yourself--if you're going to intrude on them or hurt them. They sense when you are really paying attention. To attend means to wait. That perfectly describes what we do." --Albert Maysles quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, February 13, 1994

"As a child, I didn't speak. It wasn't a deformity. I was just extremely quiet. No one knew if I was broght or dumb, so I had to repeat kindergarten. But my personality made me an avid listener, which served me well." --Albert Mayseles quoted in AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER, January 1998

"We couldn't have made all of those films without each other. There was no sibling rivalry because we weren't in competitive roles. We worked as a filming team, with me behind the camera. David also took control of postproduction, and we both found stories and made decisions. But above all, we held ourselves subservient to our subjects and the quality of our films." --Maysles in AMERICAN CINEMATOGRAPHER, January 1998