The award-winning documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles had a clear idea of what non-fiction filmmaking should look like — and it wasn’t exactly convention when he began creating films in 1955. He was determined to let the subject and the story speak for itself, without formal interviews, staging or narration, sometimes without any words at all.
“Psychiatry in Russia” (1955)
Maysles died Thursday night, after a 60-year long career that deeply affected the conversations around nonfiction filmmaking, conversations about truth, accuracy, bias and exploitation.
“There’s hopefully no control except with the camera, there’s of course, you run the camera when you think it’s appropriate to and you film things that are appropriate to the story,” Maysles, who had just received the Charles Guggenheim Symposium award, told chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown in 2009. (Listen to the interview below). “Alfred Hitchcock put it beautifully when he said, ‘in a fiction film, the director is god. In a nonfiction film, namely a documentary, god is the director.’”
“Gimme Shelter” (1970)
Whether capturing the lives of rock stars, heavyweight champions, travelling salesmen, eccentric society mavens or everyday people, Maysles created a level of trust with his subjects.
“It all starts from the very first moment I meet somebody,” he said. “They catch something in my eyes that indicates that I’m OK, that I’m going to give them a kind of attention that is full of understanding and love and that’s what I do.”
“Christo’s Valley Curtain” (1974)
“Grey Gardens” (1975)
“When We Were Kings” (1996)
Listen to Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Albert Maysles from 2009 about what’s changed since the 1960s and how important it is to maintain a respectful and trusting relationship with the subject.