Albert and David Maysles

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Albert and David Maysles
Born Albert (1926-11-26)November 26, 1926
David (1931-01-10)January 10, 1931
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died David January 3, 1987(1987-01-03) (aged 55), New York City, U.S.
Albert March 5, 2015(2015-03-05) (aged 88), New York City
Other names The Maysles Brothers
Occupation Film directors, producers
Years active Albert (1955–2015; his death)
David (1955–1987; his death)
Style Documentary, Direct Cinema

Albert (November 26, 1926 – March 5, 2015) 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 lives[edit]

The brothers were born in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, living there until the family moved to Brookline, Massachusetts when Albert was 13.[1] The family originally moved to Dorchester to be near family (The Maysles and the Kandibs). Though the family had first moved to New York City, Josef Maysles, a great uncle of Albert and David, decided that New York was uncivilized and heard that Boston was a far more civilized city. Thus, Josef, along with his daughter, Becky Kandib, and her husband, Joe Kandib, moved to the West Side of Boston, and eventually settled in Dorchester. The rest of the family soon followed. Albert and David's parents, both Jewish, were immigrants to the United States; their father, born in Ukraine, was employed as a postal clerk, while their mother, originally from Poland, was a school teacher.[2]

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.[3]

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 graduated in 1949 with a BA from Syracuse University and later earned a master's 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".[4] In 2005 Albert was given a lifetime achievement award at the Czech film festival AFO (Academia Film Olomouc).

At the time of his death, Albert had been working on an autobiographical documentary.[5]


The brothers are most known for their documentaries, Salesman and Grey Gardens. Both of these films are in the style known as direct cinema. The brothers would let the story unfold as the camera rolled, rather than planning what exactly they wanted to shoot. Both films received criticism; some people thought that scenes in the films were planned out. Pauline Kael's review of the film Salesman included a harsh accusation that the main subject, Paul, was not a bible salesman as the film portrayed but that he was actually a professional actor. The Maysles brothers threatened legal action after this accusation.

Later lives[edit]

In 2005, Albert Maysles founded the Maysles Documentary Center,[6] a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films that inspire dialogue and action in Harlem.[7]


David Maysles, the younger brother, died of a stroke on January 3, 1987, aged 55, in New York City.[8]

Albert Maysles died at his home in Manhattan on March 5, 2015, aged 88.[9]

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."[10]

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".[11] Two of their films, Salesman and Grey Gardens, have been preserved in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.[12]


Albert Maysles 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. He was awarded a 2013 National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama on July 28, 2014.[13]

Filmography of Albert and David Maysles[edit]

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)
  • Iris (2014)

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.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Albert Maysles profile,; accessed March 6, 2015.
  4. ^ King, Susan (April 9, 2007). "A documentarian, first and foremost". The Los Angeles Times. 
  5. ^ Zoller Seitz, Matt. "8 Things About Albert Maysles". Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Mission Statement,; accessed March 6, 2015.
  8. ^ Kleiman, Dena (January 4, 1987). "David Maysles is Dead at 54, Maker of Documentary Films". The New York Times. Retrieved April 22, 2010. 
  9. ^ Gates, Anita (March 6, 2015). "Albert Maysles, Pioneering Documentarian, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2015. 
  10. ^ Maysles Films – The Documentary
  11. ^ Blumenthal, Ralph (6 May 2002). "Filming an Art-Heist Mystery And Hoping for a Happy Ending". New York Times. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  12. ^ "Library of Congress". National Film Registry. Library of Congress. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  13. ^ 2013 National Medal of Arts induction,; accessed March 6, 2015.

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]