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The UCLA Film Archive launches two important series this week, “Meet Albert Maysles,” a tribute to the veteran documentarian, which commences tonight at 7:30 p.m. with the landmark “Salesman” (1968) and an appearance by Maysles; and “Contemporary Latin American Films,” which begins Saturday with Patricio Guzman’s new “Chile--The Obstinate Memory,” an eloquent postscript to his monumental “The Battle of Chile.”

Both series will be in the James Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall.

With his late brother David and other key colleagues, Albert Maysles pioneered “direct cinema,” which took full advantage of the immediacy and spontaneity in filmmaking made possible by lightweight hand-held camera and sound equipment that became available in the late ‘50s.

“Salesman” is one of the Maysles’ best-known works, an account of a group of door-to-door Bible salesmen coming slowly unraveled. (Maysles is also known for “Gimme Shelter” (1970), which started out as a concert film of the Rolling Stones performing at Altamont but took an unexpected direction when a fan was murdered. The film screens Sunday at 7 p.m.)


All Maysles productions are worth seeing, but two rarely seen older works, “Showman” (1963) and “Grey Gardens” (1976), screening Friday, and a stunning newer film, “Letting Go: A Hospice Journey” (1996), are of special interest.

In “Showman,” the Maysles followed Joe Levine, a shrewd Boston-born film distributor and later producer who unapologetically mixed trash and class. His big breakthrough came in picking up the Italian-made “Hercules” with Steve Reeves, which he promoted into a huge international hit. He moved swiftly on to “Two Women,” which won Sophia Loren a best actress Oscar.

The Maysles go with Levine, a short, squat, plain-talking man, through his busy globe-trotting schedule of constant deal-making. But the filmmakers’ best insight into the man occurs when a group of middle-aged men who grew up with him in Boston’s West End throw him a banquet. Levine is moved by the salute but refuses to be sentimental. “I told them that I wasn’t going to get up there and discuss the good old days in the West End because they weren’t good. They were [filled with] misery and poverty.”

In “Grey Gardens,” the Maysles take on a different subject. In the mid-’70s, an elderly woman and her middle-aged daughter made headlines when authorities ordered them to clean up their deteriorating 28-room East Hampton estate or get out. That’s when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis came to their rescue, for Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edie were her aunt and cousin, respectively.

The Maysles and their colleagues befriended the Beales and the unforgettable result was “Grey Gardens,” taken from their home’s name. Mrs. Beale, or Big Edie, had been a beautiful, wealthy matron who loved to sing, and her daughter, known as Little Edie, had been an equally beautiful World War II-era debutante.

But Mr. Beale split and went broke. Somehow, Little Edie eluded the marriage expected of her class and never latched onto a career. Her mother summoned her home in 1952, and more than 20 years later, Little Edie, an aging bohemian, has the crazed desperation of a Chekhov heroine eager to escape to the big city. Or so she says. For “Grey Gardens” is a portrait of a mother-daughter relationship laced with mutual dependency, reprisals, conflicting views of the past and an underlying love in which we can perceive the decisive consequences of fate, circumstance and choice.


In “Letting Go: A Hospice Journey” (Monday at 7:30 p.m.), which Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson directed with Maysles as cinematographer, we discover how hospice workers, once a dying person’s condition is made as pain-free as possible, can step in and help that individual as well as his family and friends. As a result, the patient achieves a remarkable degree of acceptance and reconciliation that gives death as much meaning as possible while reducing its trauma upon the survivors.

The documentarians follow three dying people: a little boy whose parents have experienced a bitter divorce; a macho San Francisco fireman distant from his wife and estranged from his daughter for 18 years--half her life; and a beloved 46-year-old mother whose religious faith and that of her loved ones threaten to create a state of denial. “Letting Go” is a mesmerizing experience, comforting rather than depressing. There will be a panel discussion with Maysles Sunday at 5 p.m.

The other UCLA Film Archive series focuses on documentarian Patricio Guzman, who returned to his homeland in 1976 after a 23-year exile to make “Chile--The Obstinate Memory.” This film updates his masterful “The Battle of Chile,” on the brave rise and tragic fall of Salvador Allende, a democratically elected Marxist. In this beautiful, ineffably poignant film, Guzman shows “The Battle of Chile” both to old comrades and to students who for the most part have been ignorant about Allende’s government and its pluralistic principles and the brutal U.S.-backed coup that overthrew it in 1973.

We meet Guzman’s elegant 80-year-old uncle, who not only hid the reels of “The Battle of Chile” but also smuggled them out of the country. We also meet a student who asserts that Gen. Augusto Pinochet “struck the first blow in bringing down the Berlin Wall.” The first part of “The Battle of Chile” follows. It is a grueling, remarkable account of a country hurtling toward chaos with the inevitability of Greek tragedy. This monumental, three-part undertaking is an utterly unique and awesomely sweeping record of political upheaval that proceeds in a brisk, straightforward fashion from an upfront leftist point of view.

Guzman and his five technicians--Federico Elton, Jorge Muller Silva (imprisoned and tortured to death after the September 1973 coup), Bernardo Menz, Jose Pino and Marta Harnecker--were incredibly brave in reporting history in the making, plunging into the midst of riots and gunfire as well as the stately halls of government and political meetings of the oppressed and angry working class.

As the tumultuous, traumatic events of 1973 unfold, beginning in March with the leftist victories in the congressional elections, there emerges a massively scaled portrait of a society in which the wealthy right wing, aided and abetted by the United States, commences to declare war on the world’s first freely elected Marxist government.


“The Battle of Chile” is above all a classic confrontation between the haves and have-nots. Its particular tragedy is that the paranoia among the warring elements escalates so fiercely and rapidly that a coalition of moderates becomes impossible. Seen and heard only in public declarations--”The Battle of Chile” is a virtual newsreel visually--Salvador Allende himself comes across as singularly brave and intelligent.

Indeed, for all its Marxist commitment, “The Battle of Chile” expresses powerfully a passionate, anguished concern for freedom and justice instead of merely concerning itself with propagandizing communism. Its primary concern is in fact not with a particular form of government but with the right of a people to choose for itself what kind of government it shall have--and without foreign intervention.

Parts 2 and 3 screen Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. (310) 206-FILM.


The American Cinematheque’s “Fast Forward: Recent French Filmmaking, 1986--1998” continues Friday at Raleigh Studios. Jean-Francois Richet’s “Ma 6-T Va Crack-Er,” yet another drama of gang violence in suburban Paris housing projects, a subject that tends to wear thin fast, shows at 7:30 p.m. It is followed at 9:30 p.m. by Andre Techine’s superb “I Don’t Kiss,” a classic tale, told with the utmost simplicity and compassion. This is a tale of a naive, idealistic 20-year-old (Manuel Blanc) from the provinces who takes off for Paris to become an actor only to discover he has no talent and no survival skills beyond prostitution. The result is a bruising coming-of-age story, beautifully acted by Manuel Blanc and featuring equally impressive performances by Philippe Noiret, Emannuele Beart and Helene Vincent.


Olivier Assayas’ “Paris at Dawn” (Saturday at 7:15 p.m.) is a stylish, quietly affecting portrait of a beautiful 18-year-old named Louise (Judith Godreche) trying to make her way in the present-day City of Light. With little education, a recurrent drug problem and not much more than vague ambition, she is vulnerable to men unworthy of her love: first, a middle-aged tour guide (Jean-Pierre Leaud) who rages at her incessantly--and perversely--out of fear that she doesn’t truly love him; second, his long-absent 19-year-old son (Thomas Langmann), a drifter who seems headed for trouble.

Louise’s ultimate fate is doubly ironic: She winds up with far more professional success than she probably could have ever realistically expected, yet that fate is prosaic and trivial alongside her dreams. Followed at 9:45 p.m. by Maurice Pialat’s outstanding 1991 “Van Gogh,” with Jacques Dutronc in the title role. (213) 466-FILM.


Note: “Post-Colonial Classics of the Korean Cinema,” a major retrospective at UC Irvine, resumes Saturday at 4:30 p.m with Kim Ki-young’s sophisticated melodrama “The Housemaid” (1960), which has been compared to the films of Douglas Sirk and Vincente Minnelli. Ticket and parking information: (714) 824-7418; festival information: (714) 824-1992.



Stephen Low’s 40-minute 1995 “Titanica,” which offers an eerie, thrilling and poignant voyage to the bottom of the sea for a close-up look, via submersibles, of the ill-fated ocean liner Titanic, is currently at the Edwards Irvine Spectrum, (714) 832-IMAX, and Ontario Stadium, (909) 476-1500. That “Titanica” should be revived at this time is obvious; less so, is the fact that its feature-length version is as yet unreleased in Southland Imax theaters.