Remembering Albert Maysles

Morgan Neville, Fabien Constant, Varon Bonicos, Guy Maddin, Gay Talese and Frédéric Boyer pay tribute.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Albert Maysles at Simon Trevor's White Gold premiere at MoMA
Albert Maysles at Simon Trevor's White Gold premiere at MoMA Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Documentary filmmakers Morgan Neville (2014 Oscar winner for 20 Feet From Stardom), Fabien Constant (Mademoiselle C), Varon Bonicos (A Man's Story) and Keyhole director Guy Maddin share their thoughts on the passing of the great documentarian Albert Maysles at the age of 88, Thursday, March 5, in New York City.

Author and journalist Gay Talese on an American Assignment for the New York Times in Selma, Alabama, sent a note, upon hearing the news, from the place where Gay had covered the civil rights march and "Bloody Sunday" 50 years ago.

Albert Maysles with Iris Apfel, the subject of his film Iris
Albert Maysles with Iris Apfel, the subject of his film Iris

Tribeca Film Festival Artistic Director Frédéric Boyer wrote "…this is very sad to lose a master of Cinema. We are playing his last film in the Tribeca [World Documentary] Competition,..." In Transit, co-directed by Maysles with Nelson Walker, Lynn True, David Usui, and Ben Wu, will have its world premiere on the opening weekend of the 14th Tribeca Film Festival (April 15 - 26).

Albert was always supportive of other filmmakers' work as when he attended the premiere and discussion of Simon Trevor's White Gold at MoMA. The Maysles Documentary Center and Cinema at 343 Lenox Avenue / Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem was founded by him in 2006.

Iris (2014), the last film he presented at the New York Film Festival, is about a truly individual style icon, the then 93-year-old master of the accessory, Iris Apfel, who together with her 100 plus husband of 66 years, Carl, was Maysles' friend. In his film, he has her explain the art of dressing herself, a fascinating philosophical endeavor to watch. Iris is very opposed to plastic surgery because "some people come out looking like a Picasso." Dries Van Noten, Jenna Lyons, Martha Stewart, and Bruce Weber comment, the latter also on Maysles, that "the ladies are all over Albert."

Edith Bouvier Beale, cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, has become a style inspiration to this day, ever since Albert, together with his brother, David, gave us Grey Gardens in 1976, which opened yesterday in New York at Film Forum with a DCP restoration by Janus Films.

Edith Bouvier Beale in Grey Gardens
Edith Bouvier Beale in Grey Gardens

Morgan Neville: "I’m at the True/False Documentary Film Festival now—the kind of gathering of filmmakers that would not exist like it does without the work of Al and David Maysles. Al’s passing today has left everyone in a contemplative mood. He lived the life of a documentary filmmaker that all of us aspire to. He was always curious and still making films until the end. I can’t think of a better way to live one’s life."

Fabien Constant: "It's such sad news for documentarists around the world. A true pioneer on narrative aspects and relationship with the characters he was shooting but also, and we forget it easily those days, a true pioneer technically. How difficult, heavy, demanding were those cameras he was shooting with at this time and how brilliant and unique the man and his bro should have been to get such a deep intimacy with their subjects in those conditions. And on a personal aspect, Grey Gardens is such a cult movie."

Guy Madden: "...man those movies of his are important to me."

Varon Bonicos: "Ahhhh sad) : yes. Inspirational man."

Gay Talese: "Wow! I just saw Albert Maysles mentioned in The Times last week in connection with a forthcoming project….sadly,…"

Frédéric Boyer: "The Empire Builder is America’s busiest long-distance train route, running from Chicago to Seattle. Throughout these corridors sit runaways, adventurers, and loners – a myriad passengers waiting to see what their journey holds. A touching and honest observation, co-directed by the iconic documentarian Albert Maysles, In Transit breathes life into the long commute, and contemplates the unknowns that lie at our final destination."

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