Joe McElhaney University of Illinois Press, 2008 Library of Congress PN1998.3.M39752M34 2009 | Dewey Decimal 791.430233092
Albert Maysles has created some of the most influential documentaries of the postwar period. Such films as Salesman,Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens continue to generate intense debate about the ethics and aesthetics of the documentary form. In this in-depth study, Joe McElhaney offers a novel understanding of the historical relevance of Maysles. By closely focusing on Maysles's expressive use of his camera, particularly in relation to the filming of the human figure, this book situates Maysles's films within not only documentary film history but film history in general, arguing for their broad-ranging importance to both narrative film and documentary cinema. Complete with an engaging interview with Maysles and a detailed comparison of the variant releases of his documentary on the Beatles (What's Happening: The Beatles in the U.S.A. and The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit), this work is a pivotal study of a significant filmmaker.
Boldly signifying the cultural issues of the 1960s and 1970s in groundbreaking pieces such as Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter, and Showman, filmmakers and brothers David and Albert Maysles used an approach to documentary film that involved spontaneous observation of naturally occurring events. With no rehearsed footage and no preconceived plots, their revolutionary work eschewed the authoritative voice-over narrator, didactic scripts, and the traditional problem-and-solution format used by the majority of their predecessors in the genre and duly influenced subsequent directors in both fiction and nonfiction film. Their collaboration from 1962 until David’s death in 1987 wrought thirteen major works in which the brothers critiqued the concept of celebrity with unglamorous footage of iconic figures, explored how commercialism hinders communication, and questioned the possibility of seeing anything clearly in a world abounding with both real and constructed images.
Jonathan B. Vogels outlines how the Maysles brothers blended a unique amalgam of direct cinema characteristics, a modern humanist aesthetic, and a collaborative working process that included other directors and editors. Looking at the films as both shapers and reflections of American culture, he points out that the works offer insights into a wide range of contemporary topics including materialism, celebrity, modern art, and the American family. In addition to describing the changes in technology that made direct cinema possible, Vogels provides careful, scene-by-scene analyses that allow for a consideration of the Maysles brothers’ films as films, a tactic not frequently employed in nonfiction film studies.