Albert and David Maysles

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Albert and David Maysles
Born Albert (1926-11-26) November 26, 1926 (age 88)
(1931-01-10)January 10, 1931
Died David January 3, 1987 (age 45)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Other names The Maysles Brothers
Occupation Film directors, producers
Years active 1955–present
Style Documentary, Direct Cinema

Albert (born November 26, 1926) and David (January 10, 1931 – January 3, 1987) Maysles (rhymes with "hazels") were an American documentary filmmaking team whose works include Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter (1970) and Grey Gardens (1976).


Early life[edit]

Best known for his work in direct cinema (cinéma vérité), Albert did not begin his career as a filmmaker; he got a Master of Arts degree from Boston University where he taught psychology for three years before making the switch to film. He took a trip to Russia to photograph a mental hospital, and returned the next year with a camera gifted to him from CBS to film his first documentary, Psychiatry in Russia.[1] Their 1964 film on The Beatles forms the backbone of the DVD, The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit. Several Maysles films document art projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude over a three-decade period, from 1974 when Christo's Valley Curtain was nominated for an Academy Award to 2005 when The Gates headlined New York's Tribeca Film Festival.

Albert Maysles graduated in 1949 with a BA from Syracuse University and later earned a masters degree at Boston University. Albert has continued to make films on his own since his brother's death. Jean-Luc Godard once called Albert Maysles "the best American cameraman".[2] In 2005 Albert was given a lifetime achievement award at the Czech film festival AFO (Academia Film Olomouc). He is working on his own autobiographical documentary.[citation needed]

Later life[edit]

In 2005 Albert founded the Maysles Documentary Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films that inspire dialogue and action in Harlem, New York City.[3] Albert is a patron of Shooting People, a filmmakers' community.[citation needed]

David Maysles, the younger brother, died of a stroke on January 3, 1987, in New York City.[4]

Legacy and contribution to documentary cinema[edit]

The Maysles Brothers have shot over 30 films. Their films Salesman, the Rolling Stones film Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens are considered examples of Direct Cinema. Albert Maysles said: "Remember, as a documentarian you are an observer, an author but not a director, a discoverer, not a controller."[5]

Albert pioneered the "fly on the wall" perspective in documentary cinema. His success from a technical aspect was based on separating the camera from the sound recording device (David used a Nagra) by accurately controlling the speed of the camera and the taperecorder allowing the two devices to be moved independently with respect to each other; an impossibility in commercially available equipment at the time. Long takes with ordinary equipment of the era would invariably lose synchronization.

In May 2002 the New York Times referred to Albert as "the dean of documentary film making".[6] Two of their films, Salesman and Grey Gardens, have been preserved in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.[7]


Albert received the Sundance Film Festival 2001 Cinematography Award for Documentaries for Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton as well as the DuPont Columbia Gold Baton Award.[citation needed] In 1999 Eastman Kodak saluted Albert as one of the world's 100 finest cinematographers.[citation needed]He was awarded a 2013 National Medal of Arts by Pres. Barack Obama, July 28, 2014.[8]

Filmography of Albert and David Maysles[edit]

  • Anastasia (1962)
  • Showman (1963)
  • Orson Welles In Spain (1963)
  • What's Happening! The Beatles In The USA (1964) – featuring The Beatles
  • IBM: A Self-Portrait (1964)
  • Meet Marlon Brando (1965)
  • Cut Piece (1965)
  • Six in Paris (1965) (with Godard, as cinematographer)
  • With Love from Truman (1966, with Charlotte Zwerin) – featuring Truman Capote
  • Salesman (1968) (with Charlotte Zwerin)
  • Journey to Jerusalem (1968)
  • Gimme Shelter (1970, with Charlotte Zwerin) – featuring The Rolling Stones
  • Christo's Valley Curtain (1974, with Ellen Hovde)
  • Grey Gardens (1976, with Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, Susan Froemke)
  • The Burks of Georgia (1976, with Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer)
  • Running Fence (1978, with Charlotte Zwerin)
  • Muhammad and Larry (1980)
  • Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic (1985, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson, Pat Jaffe)
  • Ozawa (1986, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
  • Islands (1986, with Charlotte Zwerin)
  • Christo in Paris (1990, with Deborah Dickson and Susan Froemke)

Selected filmography by Albert Maysles[edit]

  • Psychiatry in Russia (1955)
  • Horowitz Plays Mozart (1987, with Susan Froemke, Charlotte Zwerin)
  • Jessye Norman Sings Carmen (1989, with Susan Froemke)
  • They Met in Japan (1989, with Susan Froemke)
  • Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia (1991, with Susan Froemke, Peter Gelb and Bob Eisenhardt)
  • Abortion: Desperate Choices (1992, with Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson)
  • Baroque Duet (1992, with Susan Froemke, Peter Gelb, Pat Jaffe)
  • Accent on the Offbeat (1994, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
  • Umbrellas (1995, with Henry Corra, Grahame Weinbren)
  • Letting Go: A Hospice Journey (1996, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
  • Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center (1997, with Susan Froemke, Bob Eisenhardt)
  • LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (2000, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
  • The Gates (2005, with Antonio Ferrera)
  • Sally Gross: The Pleasure of Stillness (2007)
  • Close Up: Portraits (2008)
  • Rufus Wainwright – Milwaukee At Last (2009)
  • Hollywood Renegade: The Life of Budd Schulberg (2009) (Cinematographer)
  • The Love We Make (2011, with Bradley Kaplan, Ian Markiewicz)

In popular culture[edit]

An HBO film entitled Grey Gardens was released in 2009 about the brothers. The film starred Arye Gross as Albert and Justin Louis as David.


Further reading[edit]

  • Joe McElhaney, Albert Maysles, University of Illinois Press, 2009.
  • Dave Saunders, Direct Cinema: Observational Documentary and the Politics of the Sixties, London, Wallflower Press 2007

External links[edit]