Maysles Films was a leading force in non-fiction film since the 1960’s. Albert Maysles, acknowledged by the New York Times in May, 2002 as the dean of documentary filmmaking, was one of the early creators of direct cinema along with his brother, David Maysles. They were among the first to capture life as it unfolded before their camera – without scripts, sets, or narration.
The Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin
Referred to as The Maysles Brothers, Albert and David were among the first documentary film-makers to make non-fiction feature films. In the early sixties Albert had worked with the classic documentary team assembled by Robert Drew which included Richard Leacock and Don Pennebaker and made such films as Primary, and Yankee No. His first film made with his brother David was Showman (1963), a portrait of producer Joe Levine, followed by What’s Happening? The Beatles in the USA (1964) and Meet Marlon Brando (1965). But brilliant as these early films were, the Maysles Brothers’ breakthrough film was Salesman (1968) which was edited by Charlotte Zwerin who had edited their earlier film With Love From Truman (1966). Charlotte’s work was so crucial to shaping this film and Maysles Films’ subsequent epic rock and roll classic Gimme Shelter (1970), that it was clear that editors as gifted as Charlotte are in fact documentary co-directors. Charlotte joined Albert and David as co-filmmaker on the later Christo films Running Fence (1978) , and Islands (1986) and co-directed with Albert and Susan Froemke Horowitz Plays Mozart (1987). Charlotte Zwerin’s own films include portraits of Willem De Kooning, Ella Fitzgerald, Arshile Gorky and the jazz classic Thelonius Monk: Straight No Chaser.
Collaboration with Susan Froemke
After David’s death in 1987, Albert went on to collaborate with Susan Froemke who had joined the company before David’s death. Susan had been co-filmmaker with Albert, David , Muffie Myers and Ellen Hovde on Grey Gardens (1976) their classic portrait of two recluses,on Emmy Award winner Ozawa (1985) Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic (1985), Horowitz Plays Mozart (1986) Christo in Paris (1990), which won the Amsterdam Film Festival’s Grand Prize and the Chicago Film Festival’s Golden Hugo and Emmy award. From 1987 to 2002 she and Albert were co-filmakers with collaborators including Ellen Hovde, Muffie Myers and Deborah Dixon on eleven films including Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia (1991), a new version of The Beatles! The First U.S. Visit (1991), Baroque Duet (1992), Abortion: Desperate Choices (1992), Accent on the Offbeat (1993). In 1996 Froemke, Deborah Dickson, and Albert Maysles collaborated on Letting Go: A Hospice Journey, and Concert of the WIlls: Making the Getty Center and in (2000) Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton. Susan’s first independent feature was Karajan in Salzburg (1988) and later she made Abbado in Berlin: The First Year (1991), 100 Years of Women (1999) and a film about the making of Mel Brooks stage production of the The Producers.
Towards the Future
Maysles Films had always been a place where young filmmakers received their start as they joined David and Albert in working on the more than three dozen documentaries made over the last five decades by the Maysles Brothers and their associates. Films like Salesman, which is listed in the Library of Congress as one of America’s 25 most important films, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens and Running Fence are widely considered as classics of the documentary. Al continued the history of film-making and mentoring new film-makers as they continued to find inspiration in the drama of human experience- until his death in 2015. In the twenty-first century almost 50 years after Al picked up his heavy and primitive 16mm modified Auricon camera, Albert Maysles was still making films up until a month before his passing in the spring of 2015. Moving forward Maysles Films aspires to maintain the rich archive of films, photographs and all things that come of working in Documentary Film for over 60 years!