Friday, 6 March 2015
Albert Maysles was born on November 26 1926. His brother, David, was born nearly four years later. When Albert Maysles was very young his family lived in Dorchester in Boston, Massachusetts.They later moved to the suburb of Brookline. Albert Maysles attended Syracuse University where he received a degree in psychology. He received a master’s degree from Boston University in the field and taught psychology for three years before he made his first film, the documentary short "Psychiatry in Russia" in 1955. It was followed by "Russian Close-Up" and "Youth in Poland" in 1957. "Youth in Poland" would mark the first time that Mr. Maysles worked with his brother David, who was co-director on the film. David Maysles had been working as a production assistant on Hollywood films. In 1960 Albert Maysles served as part of the film crew for Robert Drew's documentary Primary, which followed Democratic presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey on their campaigns.
Albert Maysles directed portions of a 1961 edition of ABC Close-Up! entitled "Adventures on the New Frontier" that examined the daily work of President John F. Kennedy. It was in 1962 that Albert and David Maysles founded Maysles Films. The Maysles brothers directed the documentary Showman (1962), which followed Joseph E. Levine as he promoted the Sophia Loren film Two Women. Much of the Maysles' brothers' living at this point consisted of making commercials for such companies as IBM and Merrill Lynch.
The year 1964 brought the Maysles brothers one of their best known works. They documented The Beatles' first visit to the United States in 1964 with What's Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A. The documentary would later be edited together with footage from The Beatles' first appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and released as The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit in 1991. The Maysles brothers' reputations as documentary filmmakers would be further consolidated by Salesmen, in which they followed four door to door salesmen, and Gimme Shelter, which documented The Rolling Stones' ill-fated music festival in 1969 at Altamont Speedway in California. In between they directed the documentaries With Love from Truman (1966), Orson Welles in Spain (1966), and Meet Marlon Brando (1966).
In 1974 Albert Maysles directed the first of several documentaries on controversial artist Christo, Christo's Valley Curtain (1974). It was followed by what may be the Maysles brothers' most famous documentary short of What's Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A. and Gimme Shelter. Grey Gardens chronicled the everyday lives of Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale and Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale, two reclusive socialites who were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis respectively. Grey Gardens received critical acclaim and went onto develop a cult following. Albert Maysles ended the decade of the Seventies with Muhammad and Larry (1980), a documentary about Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes.
The Eighties would see Albert Maysles direct the television documentary Ozawa (1985), about the Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, as well as the television documentary Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic (1985), about the classical pianist. He also directed Horowitz Plays Mozart (1987) and Jessye Norman Sings Carmen (1989). Sadly, on January 3 1987 Albert Maysles' brother David died of a stroke at the age 55. Albert Maysles would continue to work nearly three decades following his brother's death. In fact he worked up to his own.
The Nineties saw Albert Maysles direct works on a wide variety of subject matter, everything from Sports Illustrated: Swimsuit '92 to an edition of America Undercover, "Abortion: Desperate Choices". He also directed the television special Conversations with the Rolling Stones (1994) as well as the films Letting Go: A Hospice Journey (1996) and Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center (1997). Mr. Maysles continued working through the Naughts and into the Teens. He directed the television documentary LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (2001), about a Louisiana school district, and the films Sally Gross: The Pleasure of Stillness (2007) and Iris (2014). He also directed an editions of the TV programmes The Addiction Project, as well as the TV documentaries More Than a Paycheck: Mitchum Presents America's Hardest Workers (2010) and The Love We Make (2011). His last film, In Transit, is in post-production and due to be released this year.
Together the Maysles brothers revolutionised documentary filmmaking. Although not the first to work in cinéma vérité, they took the form further than anyone had before them. Battery powered cameras and audio recorders had only recently been developed when the two brothers established Maysles Films, and the two of them used the new technology to get closer to their subjects than documentarians had ever been able to before. The Maysles brothers further broke with traditional documentary filmmaking in that they did not interview their subjects. Instead they simply filmed their subjects as they went about their lives, allowing their subjects' words and actions to speak for themselves. Between the closeness the Maysles brothers were able to achieve with their subjects and simply filming their subjects' lives, the Maysles' brothers were able to achieve an immediacy that was previously lacking in most documentaries.
It is for this reason that What's Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A., Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens, and the Maysles brothers' documentaries continue to be popular to this day, even with people who don't generally like documentaries. The Maysles brothers were able to capture subjects with an immediacy, an intimacy, and even empathy as no documentarians ever had before.
Thursday, 5 March 2015
Wednesday, 4 March 2015
Here, in alphabetical order, are my picks for the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.
42nd Street (1933): In my humble opinion 42nd Street is both the greatest backstage musical of all time and one the best Pre-Code movies. It is also the second best film of 1933, second only to King Kong. 42nd Street literally invented nearly every backstage musical cliche. And while many viewers who have never seen the film will nonetheless find much that is familiar about it, 42nd Street still remains fresh and exciting largely due to fast paced, witty dialogue (much of it containing double entendres); incredible Busby Berkeley dance numbers; and some truly great songs. It also benefits from a great cast, including Ruby Keeler, Warner Baxter, Dick Powell, and Ginger Rogers.
Gunga Din (1939): There is this myth that big budget, action blockbusters were invented in the Seventies. Gunga Din is proof that this is not the case. Indeed, short of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), it might well be the most famous adventure film of the Thirties. There much to recommend about Gunga Din, including a great cast (including Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Sam Jaffe), a sterling screenplay, and plenty of action. It also has some of the most quotable lines of any film in movie history.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939): It is no secret that 1939 was a very good year for film. Indeed, there are those of us who think that it is the best year for films ever. It should then be no surprise that there are two films from that year on this list. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) is the best adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel of the same name, even if it does take considerable liberties with the source material. Regardless, Charles Laughton plays the quintessential Quasimodo in what might be the greatest performance of his legendary career. The film also features some incredible performances from Maureen O'Hara, Cedric Hardwicke, Thomas Mitchell, and Edmund O'Brien. Beyond the great performances and a great screenplay, The Hunchback of Notre Dame boasts some of the best production design of a film from the Thirties. RKO recreated medieval Paris on their Encino Ranch. It was one of the most expensive and most extravagant sets built at the time.
The Man Who Would Be King (1975): Even though it was made in the Seventies, The Man Who Would Be King seems much more like an old fashioned, adventure film from the Thirties. Much of this might be due to the fact that the film was based on Rudyard Kipling's short story of the same name, as well as the fact that it was directed by one of the Golden Age of Hollywood's greats, John Huston. Indeed, Mr. Huston had wanted to make a film based on the short story as far back at the Fifties (at which point Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart would have played the leads), but was never able to get the project off the ground. There is much to recommend about The Man Who Would Be King, not the least is its subtle balance of action, comedy, and drama.
Pinocchio (1940): This could well be my favourite Disney animated feature of all time. It certainly contains some of the best animation of any Disney film or any animated film, period. It also has one of the best screenplays of any Disney film, with a story that goes well beyond the simple morality play about the importance of hard work and telling the truth. The film has a great voice cast, with Dick Jones as the title character and Cliff Edwards as Jiminy Cricket. It also benefits from one of the best soundtracks of any animated film, including the songs "When You Wish Upon a Star" (which won the Oscar for Best Music, Original Song) and "I've Got No Strings".
Rififi (1955): Although often counted as a caper film, Rififi is no light hearted romp. Instead this tale of thieves plotting a heist is a prime example of film noir. The movie is both dark and violent, and represents a world where literally no one can be trusted. At the same time, however, there is a humanity about Rififi that is lacking in many crime films and even other films noirs. The movie benefits greatly from Jules Dassin's direction, as well as a brilliant screenplay.
Sunday, 1 March 2015
Perhaps no one is as interested in the Mitfords as author Lyndsy Spence. She is founder of the Mitford Society, which boasts over 1700 members. She wrote the highly successful book The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life and edited the Mitford Society's two annuals. She has been published in everything from The Lady Magazine to BBC Magazine. Her latest book, Mrs Guinness: The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford, comes out tomorrow. It details the early life of one of the most controversial of the Mitford sisters, Diana, who married brewing heir and future peer Bryan Guinness only to leave him for British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Following is an interview with Miss Spence regarding her latest book
A Shroud of Thoughts: Mrs Guinness: The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford is your second book related to the Mitford Sisters. How did you become interested in the Mitfords?
Lyndsy Spence: I am drawn to the inter-war era and I am fascinated by the relationships sisters and female friends have with one another. Any female relationship is complex and with six sisters you get a variety of personalities and the complexities behind them. The Mitfords seemed to be connected to everyone both through friendship and by blood. They really did have a front row seat to the key events of the last century.
A Shroud of Thoughts: What drew you to Diana Mitford as a subject for a biography?
Lyndsy Spence: Diana always provokes conversation and debate, and people either love her or loathe her. I wanted to discover the woman behind the public profiles that have been labelled on her. The thing that I admire about Diana is that whether the choices she made were right or wrong, she committed herself entirely and she never complained or played the victim. Her attitude was very much "I wanted to do it, so I did it".
Lyndsy Spence: I wanted to take her out of the Mitford circle, if you will, and look at her without the influence of her sisters. Naturally Nancy and Unity played significant parts in her life, but as far as her growing up was concerned, I wanted to explore Diana's friendships with the men who influenced her outlook on life. I was interested in the dynamic of her relationships with the men who worshipped her and how it shaped her as a person. The letters between James Lees-Milne and Diana were very revealing, and her frame of mind as a teenager did not change as she matured. So that, to me, confirmed Diana's self-belief and her opinions on how she believed people should interact with one another was very strong. Her fundamental principles as a 14 year old did not change when she reached adulthood, and it affirmed - to me at least - that Diana knew what she wanted. It was a good foundation to build on.
A Shroud of Thoughts: The Mitfords seem to have been a diverse lot, including everything from a best selling novelist and biographer (Nancy) to a Nazi sympathiser (Unity) to a political activist and muckraking journalist (Jessica). That having been said, how do you think the sisters were alike?
Lyndsy Spence: They were alike in their freethinking ways and in their independence. Granted they all married, except for Unity, and lived in an age when men dominated society, but they knew their own minds and they lived by their own rules. I think their bond ran deeper than blood, and although Decca could not forgive Diana's fascist leanings, the passion they had for their causes and the men whom they loved were alike, albeit on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
A Shroud of Thoughts: This next question will take a bit of speculation on your part. How do you think Diana's life would have been different had she remained married to Bryan Guinness?
|Bryan and Diana Guinness|
A Shroud of Thoughts: Could you tell us about any of your upcoming projects?
Lyndsy Spence: I'm writing a biography of the British film star Margaret Lockwood to mark her centenary next September (2016) and I am working on a television project that's in development. I'm also writing a fiction novel (I've been doing this in-between projects), which has been a dream of mine for so long. I'm always busy!
Mrs. Guinness: The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford is available at Amazon UK and in Kindle format at Amazon US.