Albert and David Maysles  

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Jean-Luc Godard once called Albert Maysles "the best American cameraman"

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Albert (November 26, 1926 – March 5, 2015) and David (January 10, 1931 – January 3, 1987) Maysles (rhymes with "hazels") were an American documentary filmmaking team whose works include Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter (1970) and Grey Gardens (1976). They are best known for their work in direct cinema (cinéma vérité).



Early lives

The brothers were born in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, living there until the family moved to Brookline, Massachusetts when Albert was 13. Their parents, both Jewish, were immigrants to the United States; their father, born in Ukraine, was employed as a postal clerk, while their mother, originally from Poland, was a school teacher.

Best known for his work in direct cinema (cinéma vérité), Albert did not begin his career as a filmmaker; he got a Master of Arts degree from Boston University where he taught psychology for three years before making the switch to film. He took a trip to Russia to photograph a mental hospital, and returned the next year with a camera gifted to him from CBS to film his first documentary, Psychiatry in Russia.

Their 1964 film on The Beatles forms the backbone of the DVD, The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit. Several Maysles films document art projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude over a three-decade period, from 1974 when Christo's Valley Curtain was nominated for an Academy Award to 2005 when The Gates headlined New York's Tribeca Film Festival.

Albert graduated in 1949 with a BA from Syracuse University and later earned a master's degree at Boston University. Albert has continued to make films on his own since his brother's death. Jean-Luc Godard once called Albert Maysles "the best American cameraman". In 2005 Albert was given a lifetime achievement award at the Czech film festival AFO (Academia Film Olomouc). He is working on his own autobiographical documentary.

Later lives

In 2005, Albert Maysles founded the Maysles Documentary Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films that inspire dialogue and action in Harlem.


David Maysles, the younger brother, died of a stroke on January 3, 1987, aged 55, in New York City.

Albert Maysles died at his home in Manhattan on March 5, 2015, aged 88.

Legacy and contribution to documentary cinema

The Maysles Brothers have shot over 30 films. Their films Salesman, the Rolling Stones film Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens are considered examples of Direct Cinema. Albert Maysles said: "Remember, as a documentarian you are an observer, an author but not a director, a discoverer, not a controller."

Albert pioneered the "fly on the wall" perspective in documentary cinema. His success from a technical aspect was based on separating the camera from the sound recording device (David used a Nagra) by accurately controlling the speed of the camera and the taperecorder allowing the two devices to be moved independently with respect to each other; an impossibility in commercially available equipment at the time. Long takes with ordinary equipment of the era would invariably lose synchronization.

In May 2002 the New York Times referred to Albert as "the dean of documentary film making". Two of their films, Salesman and Grey Gardens, have been preserved in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.


Albert Maysles received the Sundance Film Festival 2001 Cinematography Award for Documentaries for Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton as well as the DuPont Columbia Gold Baton Award. In 1999 Eastman Kodak saluted Albert as one of the world's 100 finest cinematographers. He was awarded a 2013 National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama on July 28, 2014.

Filmography of Albert and David Maysles

Selected filmography by Albert Maysles

  • Psychiatry in Russia (1955)
  • Horowitz Plays Mozart (1987, with Susan Froemke, Charlotte Zwerin)
  • Jessye Norman Sings Carmen (1989, with Susan Froemke)
  • They Met in Japan (1989, with Susan Froemke)
  • Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia (1991, with Susan Froemke, Peter Gelb and Bob Eisenhardt)
  • Abortion: Desperate Choices (1992, with Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson)
  • Baroque Duet (1992, with Susan Froemke, Peter Gelb, Pat Jaffe)
  • Accent on the Offbeat (1994, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
  • Umbrellas (1995, with Henry Corra, Grahame Weinbren)
  • Letting Go: A Hospice Journey (1996, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
  • Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center (1997, with Susan Froemke, Bob Eisenhardt)
  • LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (2000, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
  • The Gates (2005, with Antonio Ferrera)
  • Sally Gross: The Pleasure of Stillness (2007)
  • Close Up: Portraits (2008)
  • Rufus Wainwright – Milwaukee At Last (2009)
  • Hollywood Renegade: The Life of Budd Schulberg (2009) (Cinematographer)
  • The Love We Make (2011, with Bradley Kaplan, Ian Markiewicz)

In popular culture

An HBO film entitled Grey Gardens was released in 2009 about the brothers. The film starred Arye Gross as Albert and Justin Louis as David.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Albert and David Maysles" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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