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The Direct Cinema of David and Albert Maysles

Jonathan B. Vogels

Publication Year: 2010

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.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Front Cover

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pp. 1

Copyright Page

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pp. iv


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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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Preface: Fate, Faith, and Reality

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pp. xi-xiii

Albert and David Maysles are two of the most important nonfiction filmmakers this country has produced. Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1962 and 1963, respectively, the Maysles brothers and their older sister grew up in the ethnically diverse Dorchester area of Boston. Their parents, both first-generation Russian-Jewish immigrants, instilled in their children a respect and curiosity...

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pp. xv-xvi

Many thanks to Bruce Schulman, whose insightful feedback on the first few versions of the manuscript served the final text extremely well; what he saw (or in many cases didn’t see) in the manuscript always led to considerable improvement and a much sharper critical edge. In general, he helped train me (and many others) to understand and internalize the...

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1. Direct Cinema and the Maysles Brothers

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pp. 1-19

During the late 1950s, an energetic group of young filmmakers led by Robert L. Drew and Richard Leacock championed a new approach to nonfiction film. Eschewing the authoritative voice-over narrator, didactic scripts, and traditional problem-and-solution format used by the majority of their predecessors, these filmmakers instead tried to capture life...

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2. Celebrity and Authenticity: The Films of 1962–1966

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pp. 20-46

From 1962 to 1966, the Maysles brothers produced four short films, all of which focused on aspects of entertainment or culture. These initial efforts, Showman (1962), What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A. (1964), Meet Marlon Brando (1965), and With Love from Truman: A Visit with Truman Capote (1966), established a distinct Maysles style and advanced direct cinema’s claims to the...

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3. Salesman and the Limits of Language

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pp. 47-73

Soon after they completed With Love from Truman: A Visit with Truman Capote, the Maysles brothers began exploring the possibility of achieving in film what Truman Capote had done in literature: They wanted to create a nonfiction narrative that would resemble fiction in its dramatic structure and emphasis on character, but that would be rooted in real-life events captured spontaneously...

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4. Can We See How They Look?: Observing the Rolling Stones in Gimme Shelter

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pp. 74-99

The Maysles brothers’ next project took them in a new direction. In early 1969, the Rolling Stones, already one of rock music’s most successful and recognizable acts, launched an extended American tour in support of their album Let It Bleed. Interested in having their New York City appearance at Madison Square Garden filmed, the Stones contacted cinematographer...

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5. Working Within the Limitation of Reality: The Christo Films

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pp. 100-123

In their next effort, Albert and David made a film under more controlled circumstances. Environmental artist Christo Javacheff, the subject of two of their next four films, was for the Maysles brothers a kindred spirit, a man whose dedication to the process as much as to the product of his art made him an ideal study for the Maysles brothers’ direct cinema. “When you see [our] film[s] and get to know Christo,”...

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6. Looking into Grey Gardens

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pp. 124-157

The Maysles brothers began working on their next project even as Christo’s Valley Curtain was still being edited. In 1972, Lee Radziwill, sister of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, contacted the brothers through their mutual friend Peter Beard. Radziwill wanted to commission a cinematic family album of her childhood, and she had compiled a list of people and places she thought could be filmed. Among the suggested sites was...

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7. Taking Direct Cinema into the 1980s

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pp. 158-172

Grey Gardens was not the intentional endpoint in the Maysles brothers’ long journey. Without the form-content tension that infuses their best work, however, none of their subsequent attempts matched the quality or daring of Grey Gardens, a film that may now be considered their final attempt at redefining what “cinema could really do.” Their particular brand of authentic filmmaking, steeped in a modernist aesthetic...


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pp. 175-176


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pp. 177-202


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pp. 203-213


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pp. 215-219

Author Bio

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pp. 220

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809386017
E-ISBN-10: 0809386011
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809330096
Print-ISBN-10: 0809330091

Page Count: 244
Illustrations: 10 B/w halftones244
Publication Year: 2010