Albert Maysles – A Supernova of Documentary Films

Fathers of Docs?

Together with his Brother David, Albert Maysles helped us see the power of documentary as Art for the first time. For the Maysles Brothers, documentary was the only way to successfully express the experience of their subjects. They set out to show us the beauty of life shot frame-by-frame. Albert trained his skills while working with Giants like Godard.

Albert’s approach was to show our world what he saw, he tore down the wall between pre-structured “scene” and life by pulling back the curtain of the moment and documenting what heard. What we know of The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit, is the result of team Maysles forming a moving document of the group’s happening.

Fathers of DocsBefore Albert and David, there were only stiff and forced subject matter(s) trying to escape the conventions of the film medium. Their 1968 FILM Salesmen was the birth- a coming to light- of Non-Fiction Feature. Albert states, “(Before Salesmen)… there was nothing to compete with the Hollywood feature film. Documentaries were maybe of feature length, but not Features.”

Their use of found materials informs us of the Universe that is the life of these four Boston Door-to-Door Bible Salesmen. It took a new form of media to fully realize what moving images can do- fix time, place and experience through the medium of cinematic expression- Salesmen is the Creation of Documentary as Film.

Through their fine five part series, VBS.tv invites us to discover the real and reel world of Albert Maysles. In Part 3 of their document, VBS Meets Albert Maysles we journey back to “The birth of the nonfiction feature.”

Thank you to the Filmmaker Magazine: Blog for leading me to this moving document.

The futurist Francois Truffaunt knew something before the rest of us when he stated, for the record,

“The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of the camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure.”

There are more tools for documentation today than in any other time in our history. We don’t have just a blog, a Ustream, a flckr post, a tweet, or a “status update,” we have new and emerging mediums in which to express our artifacts. These are the documents of our experience we leave for others to discover.

photo of David and Albert Maysles via Wikipedia
movie poster of Salesmen via Wikipedia

Objects In My Mind Are Larger Than They Appear

BlankPart of the “job” of a Film Director is to construct our imagined reality into a reasonable experience. What we are charged with is the task of convincing you that what was once only in our minds could actually be. It is why we are driven mad when the saltshaker on the table doesn’t live up to what we saw in our head. Yes, even a seemingly common utensil has meaning in the story. Why did the couple choose that shape, that color? Was there an argument over this choice? Was the male agreeable to the purchase only to expedite an end to the shopping experience? Perhaps other dispensers reminded him too much of the shakers his Mother had, memories he would rather not recall in his “new” life.

To us, there is symbolism and meaning in every frame, every object in the shot, every angle is selected to convey the indescribable- the complete experience.

I was informed from the Documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes that Kubrick sorted through thousands of photographs of entryways before deciding that the door “in his mind” for Eyes Wide Shut would have to be constructed at Pinewood Studios. It’s an example of complete dedication to a vision, an uncompromising interpretation of imagination. A Director must clearly see things that are not yet there.

I see ubiquitous communication channels. I dream of tools that allow me to communicate really big concepts to small groups of people, tools that allow me to listen to great amounts of knowledge whenever I choose. I am closely watching developments in social media because interesting conversation nodes are becoming fully “tuneable.” I have set up channels where I can drop into info streams where really BIG thinkers are attempting to work out their imagined worlds.

Engineers, scientists and directors have a lot in common. We attempt to put shape to our make believe universe. Conversation sparks ideas, it’s the real-time wrestling of ideas that helps us focus to a perfected implementation. Creators of successful Social Network sites start with an understanding of their own grand world. They listen to what their users describe as their ideal environment and adjust the experience.

Christopher Nolan took a question, “What if I couldn’t trust reality?” and made the truly brilliant film Memento. The first time we experience the work, we’re in the confused mind of Leonard who is incapable of forming new memories. A second viewing places us in the uncomfortable position of knowing the motivations of the other players. The film took on a life of its own through message boards, comment threads and interaction from the audience. We dissected meanings, inferences and explored our interpretations by examining clues Nolan left behind. I believe that only Nolan has all the answers to the mysteries of Leonard, he was cognizant to lead us to a place of questioning.

Technology is to empower our ideas. The goal of shaping a new communication tool is to re-interpret the hope of connection. We are no longer restricted by a singular interface. A film experience doesn’t just have to be an insular activity. Out of an exacting work can come many conversations. I’m encouraged to see Nolan embracing emerging tech as a way to foster connection. On December 18th at 6 pm PST, he is participating in a community screening of The Dark Knight via BD Live.

This event goes beyond a standard “chat” it assumes that we will be gathered in front of our home theaters, viewing the film in the highest available quality. It is the convergence of many minds who have not compromised the precise vision of excellence.

I’m seeing the application of tech becoming more like the exciting dream in my head. Now please pass me the Northwood Canary Opalescent Cactus saltshaker, my popcorn needs a little NaCl.