Film-maker who caught the Rolling Stones on tour
Obituary: Albert Maysles, born 26, November 1926, died 5th of March, 2015
Published 05/04/2015 | 02:30
Albert Maysles, who has died aged 88, was a film-maker known as the "Dean of Documentaries". Along with his brother David, he was widely credited for driving the form to new levels of cinema vérité, and brought the Swinging Sixties to life.
The pair founded Maysles Films in the early 1960s; Albert was the cameraman and David dealt with the sound. "Film," Albert Maysles once observed, "is sort of the beginning of a love affair between the filmmakers and the subjects."
The brothers made celebrity profiles of The Beatles, Truman Capote and Orson Welles, but it was Salesman (1968), a moving portrait of four door-to-door bible salesmen from Boston, that made their name. Two years later, Gimme Shelter (1970) secured their reputation. It provided an insider's record of the Rolling Stones' 1969 US tour which culminated in a concert at Altamont, California, at which a spectator was killed by a gang of Hell's Angels. The moment was caught on film.
Perhaps the pair's greatest triumph was Grey Gardens (1975), which chronicled the eccentric existence of Edith "Big Edie" Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter "Little Edie", the aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy.
The once glamorous pair had slipped from the champagne and chandelier life of America's high society into squalor at Grey Gardens, their shambolic 28-room, clapboard and shingle home in the Hamptons.
Grey Gardens could have been modelled on Miss Havisham's decaying manor house: raccoons and cats ran wild among the rooms, branches and brambles grew through the walls, piles of newspapers rotted alongside oil paintings, broken furniture and bread left out for the wildlife.
In 1973, Lee Radziwill, Jackie Kennedy's sister, had suggested to Albert and David that they make a feature about her eccentric relatives out in the Hamptons. The film took six weeks to shoot. "We would arrive 15 or 20 minutes early," Albert recalled. "When we got out of the car, we sprayed ourselves so we wouldn't get bitten by the fleas."
Elderly Edith, a society beauty during the 1920s, and Little Edie - also past her prime - tramped around bickering and singing, clearly enjoying the attention of the Maysles. In particular, Little Edie - whose dress sense could politely be described as "bohemian" - grandstanded for the camera.
"The best thing is to wear pantyhose or some pants under a short skirt," she told Albert. "You can always take off the skirt and use it as a cape."
Albert Maysles was born on November 26, 1926, in the Dorchester neighbourhood of Boston. He served in the US tank corps during the Second World War.
On leaving the army, he studied psychology at Syracuse University and then at Boston University, where he stayed on to teach the subject for three years. "I think my training taught me above all to be unprejudiced," Maysles recalled. A trip to Russia to document mental hospitals led to his first (silent) film, Psychiatry in Russia (1955).
In 1960, he worked with Robert Drew on Primary, shadowing John F Kennedy on the campaign trail. It was here that he developed the technique of incorporating hand-held cameras with synchronous sound recording.
He directed nearly 50 films (and was a jobbing cinematographer on many others). He received a Guggenheim Fellowship, won two Emmys and was described by Jean-Luc Godard as "the best American cameraman".
After the death of David Maysles, in 1987, Albert continued to work on films, often in collaboration with others, on such subjects as the artist Christo and the Dalai Lama.
Albert Maysles is survived by his wife, Gillian (née Walker), and three children.