New York: Albert Maysles, the acclaimed documentary filmmaker who helped pioneer feature-length nonfiction movies that used lightweight, hand-held cameras to spontaneously record the lives of both the famous and the unexamined, has died. He was 88.
Stacey Farrar, the marketing director of Maysles Films, his production company, said the filmmaker died at his home in New York yesterday.
Maysles was best known for a handful of documentary classics he made with his brother, David, in the 1960s and 1970s. The Maysles Brothers as many referred to them chose subjects as ordinary as the struggles of Bible salesmen and as glamorous as Marlon Brando, Orson Welles and the Beatles, whom the pair followed in 1964 during their first trip to the United States.
One of their films, "Gimme Shelter," about The Rolling Stones' Altamont Speedway concert on Dec. 6, 1969, captured on film the killing of a fan and the darkening of the hippie dream. The Altamont concert was the Stones' disastrous effort to stage a festival like the Woodstock gathering a few months earlier.
Maysles was active right up to this death. His documentary of the fashion icon Iris Apfel, "Iris," is to be released in April. Earlier this week, the Tribeca Film Festival announced that "In Transit," a documentary he co-directed about the longest train route in the US, will premiere at this year's festival.
"We lost a true titan today, one who pioneered an art form and fostered a whole generation of artists," said Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia Pictures, which is releasing "Iris." ''His impact is immeasurable and we won't soon see his likes again."
Born in Boston to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Maysles served in the US Army from 1944 to 1946, studied at Syracuse and Boston University and taught psychology for three years before turning to film. His first foray into motion pictures was a 16-mm documentary he made in 1955 while visiting mental hospitals in the Soviet Union.
Maysles started out as an assistant to Robert Drew, a pioneer of cinema verite, and his peers included such acclaimed documentary makers as DA Pennebaker and Frederick Wiseman.
He and Pennebaker were among those who worked with Drew on the groundbreaking 1960 documentary "Primary," about rival Democratic presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. Maysles also served as a camera operator for Pennebaker's 1968 concert film "Monterey Pop."