Remembering Albert Maysles, documentarian and truth seeker

Kenneth Turan
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Film Critic
Times film critic @kennethturan remembers the late documentarian Albert Maysles

It's not often that a filmmaker helps change the face of an art form, but that was the case with Albert Maysles.

Maysles, who died March 5 at age 88, was a pioneer in a style of documentary filmmaking variously called cinema verite or direct cinema. Collaborating with his brother David, who died in 1987, and others, he worked in a way that avoided interviewing and setup situations and placed a premium on strict observation.

"I don't go out to catch people," he told a UCLA class several years ago. "I go out to find them."

Though his films did not get Oscar attention — only a 1972 short, "Christo's Valley Curtain," was nominated — they often captured public attention.

His best known works included "Salesmen" (1969), about a quartet of door-to-door Bible salesmen; "Gimme Shelter" (1970), which recorded the Rolling Stones infamous concert in Altamont, Calif.; and "Grey Gardens" (1975), a look at the reclusive lives of a mother and daughter who were related to Jackie Kennedy.

I met Albert Maysles once in the company of a photographer friend who told him that when she took pictures of people, she always felt protective toward her subjects.

"That's good," Maysles said, after a moment's thought. "But don't be too protective." Truth, he felt, was the ultimate value that could not be compromised.

Twitter: @kennethturan

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