New York State Writers Institute - Classic Film Series

Direct Cinema

The Nonfiction Films of Maysles Films, Inc.

March 24 (7:30 pm) & 25 (7 pm), 1999
Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue
(Free and Open to the Public)

Gimme Shelter

preceeded by A Visit with Truman Capote

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preceeded by Meet Marlon Brando
with film commentary by Albert Maysles
Maysles Films, Inc. has been a leading force in nonfiction film since the 1960's. Albert Maysles and his brother David, who died in 1987, are credited with the invention of "Direct Cinema," which co-evolved with "Cinema Verite" in France. They made the first feature-length films in America in which real-life drama unfolds without scripts, sets or narration. Film director Jean-Luc Godard called Albert Maysles, "the best American cameraman." He has received the Career Achievement Award (1994) of the International Documentary Association, the President's Award (1998) of the American Society of Cinematographers, and the Vision Award (1998) of the Boston Film/Video Foundation.

Born in Boston of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Albert received his B.A. at Syracuse and his Boston University where he taught psychology for three years. He made the transition from Psychology to film in the summer of 1955 by taking a 16mm camera to Russia to film patients at several mental hospitals. The next year, the Maysles brothers made a motorcycle journey from Munich to Moscow and, along the way, shot a film on the Polish student revolution.

In 1960, Albert was co-filmmaker on PRIMARY, a film about the Democratic primary election campaigns of Kennedy and Humphrey. The filmmakers used hand-held cameras and synchronous sound in order to allow the story to tell itself. With a fine-tuned sense of the scene-behind-the-scene, the brothers made the films MEET MARLON BRANDO (1965) and WITH LOVE FROM TRUMAN (1966). Then they came out with the landmark non-fiction feature film SALESMAN (1968), a portrait of four door-to-door Bible salesmen from Boston. It won a special award from the National Society of Film Critics and has come to be regarded as the classic American documentary. In 1992,the Library of Congress saluted the film for its historical, cultural and aesthetic significance.

Albert was made a Guggenheim Fellow in 1965. His next two films became cult classics, GIMME SHELTER (1970) is the dazzling portrait of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones on their American tour which culminated in a killing at the notorious concert at Altamont. GREY GARDENS (1976) depicts the haunting relationship of the Beales, a mother and daughter living secluded in a decaying East Hampton mansion. These films, like SALESMAN, were released theatrically to much acclaim.

Throughout its history, Maysles Films Inc has been responsible for many films on art and artists. One well-known collaboration has been with the celebrated artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, whose monumental environmental projects have been documented in such films as the Academy Award-nominated CHRISTO'S VALLEY CURTAIN (1994). Other films are RUNNING FENCE (1978), ISLANDS (1986),CHRISTO IN PARIS (1990), and UMBRELLAS (1995), which won the Grand Prize and the People's Choice Award at the Montreal Festival of Films on Art.

Albert's forays into the world of music range from WHAT'S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE USA (1964) to films on Leonard Bernstein, Seji Ozawa, Vladimir Horowitz, Mstislav Rostropovich and Wynton Marsalis, several of which have received Emmy Awards. In 1994, Albert filmed an up-do-date portrait of the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world, which became CONVERSATIONS WITH THE ROLLING STONES (co-produced and broadcast by VH-1).

One of the most controversial topics in America was examined in ABORTION: DESPERATE CHOICES, broadcast on HBO in 1993. Albert also worked with Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson on LETTING GO: A HOSPICE JOURNEY. Broadcast in 1996 by HBO, the film tells the stories of three terminally ill patients and their experiences with hospice care.

In 1994, the International Documentary Association presented Albert with their Career Achievement Award. Recent awards include the John Grierson Award for Documentary (1997) from S.M.P.T.E., the President's Award (1998) from the American Society of Cinematographers - given for the first time to a documentary filmmaker - and the Vision Award (1998) from the Boston Film/Video Foundation.

Albert's most recent film, made with collaborators Susan Froemke and Bob Eisenhrdt, CONCERT OF WILLS: MAKING THE GETTY CENTER (1997), chronicles the development of the Los Angeles Center from concept through construction. The film was twelve years in the making. In the works is a documentary for HBO on poverty in America.

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March 24 , 1999 (Wednesday) at 7:30 p.m.
(American, 1970, 90 minutes, color, 35 mm)

This outstanding documentary chronicles the 1969 American tour of the Rolling Stones and the famous Altamont Speedway concert; notorious because security was provided by the Hell's Angels, and because the tour culminated in mob violence and murder.

Preceded by A Visit with Truman Capote (1966, 29 minutes/ b&w, 16 mm), which explores his relationship with the two young murderers in his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood.

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maysles3.gif 35.1 K SALESMAN

March 25 , 1999 (Thursday) at 7:00 p.m. (NOTE STARTING TIME)

(American, 1968, 90 minutes, b&w, 35 mm)

A landmark nonfiction feature. SALESMAN is a portrait of four door-to-door Bible salesmen traveling from Boston to Florida persuading people to buy their exclusive Catholic bible. The camera is ever present during three weeks of their lives, which lead to unexpected private encounters between the salesman and their customers. The four eccentric characters are portrayed using every sales pitch under the sun. They also have nicknames which reveal the technique they use during visits to customers, "Rabbit" and "Bull" for example. This is an expressive and emotional documentary about one of our least liked professions. It won a special award from the national Society of Film Critics and is considered the classic American documentary.

"I've seen Salesman three times, and each time I'm more impressed. . .fascinating. . .very funny. . .unforgettable." - Vincent Canby, New York Times

"An exploration of pathos, terror, humor and courage--along with the vicissitudes of one mans life." - Boston Globe

brando.jpg 4.9 KPreceded by MEET MARLON BRANDO (1965, 28 minutes, b&w, 16 mm), tongue-in-cheek encounters between Brando and fast-talking reporters. Maysles filmed a day of Brando doing countless TV interviews and publicizing his newest movie. Not interested in promoting Morituri, a mediocre film at best, instead, he subverts the interviews, and the gullible, unprepared interviewers, being alternatively snotty and friendly, cynical and utopian, and an outrageous flirt when he is talked to by someone attractive. This is probably the most revealing portrait of Brando captured on film.

ALBERT MAYSLES will provide film commentary and answer questions
immediately following Thursday evening's screenings.

Maysles Films Inc
250 West 54th Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 582-6050