Magazine article Filmmaker

Self-Portrait

Magazine article Filmmaker

Self-Portrait

Article excerpt

Over the course of his 50 years as a filmmaker, in such landmark documentaries as Salesman, Grey Gardens and Gimme Shelter, Albert Maysles has humanized the eccentric, the ordinary and the extraordinary. One half of the filmmaking team the Maysles brothers (younger brother David died in 1987), who, along with Frederick Wiseman and D.A. Pennebaker, pioneered the "direct cinema" movement that revolutionized the documentary in the 1960s, Maysles rejected the voice-of-authority style that was the standard in the '50s. Instead his camera sought random and intimate moments, lingering on a subject's face, letting silence speak more eloquently than words. Loose, occasionally messy and always raw, his films allowed the viewer to be both confidant and voyeur.

Now, at 80, Maysles is turning his lens inward for an autobiographical film, Handheld and From the Heart, a title that references both his technical and emotional cinematic signatures.

Maysles decided to undertake the project when a producer for PBS' American Masters series approached him and said, "Let's do you," Maysles recalls. "I thought, 'Why don't I do me? I have so much material, so many outtakes... I've been doing this for 50 years now."

In addition to his archival material, Maysles is shooting new footage as he traces his roots from his native Boston, visiting the neighborhood where he grew up as well as Boston University, where he earned his MA in psychology and taught for several years. He also reconnects with old friends and even film subjects, such as one of the salesmen in Salesman, who is now driving a cab in Boston. A meticulous cataloger - he shot so much good footage for Grey Gardens that he was able to release an equally startling companion film, The Beates of Grey Gardens - Maysles will dust off not only outtakes but personal footage as well. He remembers when he and David went home to see their mother, whom Maysles cites as an important influence on his life. "She was getting an award from the American Jewish Congress, so we were going to film it," he says. "I knocked on the door and my mother opened it, and there I was with my camera on my shoulder. She looked right into the camera and said, 'Albert, you need a haircut!' There's so much stuff like that."

Maysles has always been prolific, but as he enters his ninth decade, he seems to be working with even more urgency. …

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