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Thread: ALBERT MAYSLES Memorial Film Festival (May 8-14, 2015)

  1. #1
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    ALBERT MAYSLES Memorial Film Festival (May 8-14, 2015)

    Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival Honors Legendary Documentary Pioneer with Week-Long Documentary Festival at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, May 8 - 14, 2015

    General Forum thread.



    Albert and David Maysles are among the greatest American documentary filmmakers. They are particularly warm and humanistic proponents of the non-intrusive school of Direct Cinema originated in the late Fifties and early Sixties, relying on the making of documentary films with minimal staff and light equipment, and without interviews, stock footage, or voiceover narration. Boston natives of working-class Jewish origin, the two brothers made movies as a duo, unaided in the shooting. Albert manned a camera of his own making and David used a separate, synchronized sound recording system that made it possible to shoot uninterrupted for longer than commercial equipment allowed before digital. The brothers worked together (with several faithful and brilliant editors) from the late Fifites till David's death in 1987. Then Albert continued making documentaries by himself until last year. He died March 5, 2015. Teacher and documentarian David L. Brown has set up a great program in San Francisco to celebrate the the Maysles' achievement. I'll be reviewing some of these, and was particularly eager to catch up on the Christo ones. By working on Christo's "Running Fence" myself in 1976, as part of doing an article about the project for Runner's World, and, somewhat paradoxically, winding up on the cover of the magazine running beside a strip of "Running Fence," I became a convert, but I had not seen the Maysles' other Christo & Jeanne Claude films.

    [The festival press release.] The historic Vogue Theater in San Francisco in association with David L. Brown Productions and Maysles Films present the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival at the Vogue Theater, 3290 Sacramento St. in San Francisco, May 8-14. Screening 16 documentaries (shot and directed by Albert Maysles, many with his brother, David – the Maysles Brothers), the Festival honors the legendary documentary filmmaking pioneer who passed away from cancer on March 5th at age 88, with a first-of-its-kind documentary retrospective. Tickets are available at the Vogue Theater box office and at Tickets are $12.50, $10 for students and seniors.

    The Festival opens on Friday, May 8th with the Direct Cinema classic, Salesman, along with Meet Marlon Brando. The program on Saturday, May 9 th will feature Gimme Shelter, the 1969 Rolling Stones tour that ended tragically at the Stones’ free concert at Altamont, and Running Fence, on the planning and creation of grand-scale-artist Christo’s epic 26-mile white nylon fence in Sonoma County. The Festival features four other documentaries on Christo’s epic-scale art pieces, the Academy Award-nominated Christo’s Valley Curtain , The Gates (the 20-years-in-the-making project in Central Park), screening Sunday, May 10th, and Islands and Umbrellas, screening Tuesday, May 12 th.

    D. A. Pennebaker, Maysles’ fellow Direct Cinema pioneer at Drew Associates, (Primary, Dont Look Back) will participate in a conversational remembrance of Maysles via Skype on opening night, May 8th at 6:15 p.m. Pennebaker will discuss collaborating with Maysles over 54 years including shooting a recent documentary that is currently in post-production. The Saturday May 9th screenings of Gimme Shelter and Running Fence will include Questions and Answers with distinguished guest filmmakers who worked with Mr. Maysles: Stephen Lighthill (cinematographer on both Gimme Shelter and Running Fence) and Joan Churchill (cinematographer on Gimme Shelter). The Sunday, May 10th screening of The Gates will include Q and A with Jon Else, acclaimed Bay Area cinematographer and Academy Award nominee (for The Day After Trinity). Long-time co-director with Maysles, Susan Froemke, will also participate via Skype on Wednesday, May 13th. With Maysles, she co-directed Grey Gardens and the Oscar-nominated Lalee’s Kin, along with ten other Maysles Films.

    A special addition to the Festival is Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!, the seldom-seen Maysles documentary on the 1969 Rolling Stones performance at Madison Square Garden. The rousing half-hour film will screen on Saturday, May 9th and Thursday, May 14th. The Festival will include multiple video messages or Skype Q and A from filmmakers who worked with Albert Maysles (and his brother), including Bill Jersey (cinematographer on Showman, who gave Maysles his first industrial job as cinematographer). Additional invited guest filmmakers include: Maysles’ son, Philip; cinematographer on Gimme Shelter, George Lucas; and Mayles protégé and two-time Oscar winner, Barbara Kopple.

    David L. Brown. The Festival was conceived, produced and curated by Brisbane documentary filmmaker, David L. Brown, who met Maysles in 2007. Brown filmed a two-hour interview with him for a Les Blank film on Direct Cinema pioneer, Richard Leacock, another early close collaborator and long-time friend of Maysles at Drew Associates, the birthplace of Direct Cinema. Brown wrote an article on Albert Maysles, the Maysles Brothers and their films for CineSource Magazine that Maysles described as "the best ever written about me." (available on request) The co-curator of the Festival is Adam Bergeron, programmer-operator of the Vogue Theater and owner-programmer of the Balboa Theater in San Francisco. I'll provide some previews and comments here.

    Brown is a three-time Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker who has produced, written and directed over 80 productions and 14 broadcast documentaries on a variety of issues and topics. His documentaries have received over 85 international awards and have been broadcast on PBS and in sixteen countries. Surfing for Life, his documentary on older surfers as models for healthy aging, was described by Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle, as "a treasure, perhaps the most intelligent treatment of surfing ever captured on film." His documentary on the long, troubled history of the new east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, The Bridge So Far: A Suspense Story, won two Northern California Emmys including Best Documentary. Brown has produced three film festivals on nuclear, environmental, peace and justice issues. He teaches Documentary Filmmaking at City College of San Francisco where, for 16 years, he has curated a documentary film series.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-07-2015 at 11:57 PM.

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    FILMOGRAPHY (David and Albert Maysles)


    Filmleaf Festival Coverage thread.

    The following is based on a Wikipedia listing of Maysles works, with David L. Brown's Memorial Festival offerings highlighted. Gray Gardens is on Netflix as are Rufus Wainwright - Milwaukee at Last and Muhammad and Larry. And so is the 3-DVD set "5 Films About Christo and Jeanne-Claude - A Maysles Films Production," including Christo Valley Curtain/Running fence, Islands/Christo in Paris, and Umbrellas. Amazon lists only two copies of this set available, from $229. That's not all of the Maysles available on DVD (though we need more) -- see notations of other current Netflix offerings below.

    Filmography of Albert and David Maysles
    Orson Welles In Spain (1963)
    What's Happening! The Beatles In The USA (1964) – featuring The Beatles (Netflix as "The Beatles - the First U.S. Visit")
    IBM: A Self-Portrait (1964)
    Meet Marlon Brando (1965)
    Cut Piece (1965)
    Six in Paris (1965) (with Godard, as cinematographer)
    With Love from Truman (1966, with Charlotte Zwerin) – featuring Truman Capote
    Salesman (1968) (with Charlotte Zwerin) (Netflix - Criterion edition)
    Journey to Jerusalem (1968)
    Gimme Shelter (1970, with Charlotte Zwerin) – featuring The Rolling Stones (Netflix)
    Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out! (1970)
    Christo's Valley Curtain (1974, with Ellen Hovde) (Netflix)
    Grey Gardens (1976, with Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, Susan Froemke) (Netflix)
    The Burks of Georgia (1976, with Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer)
    Running Fence (1978, with Charlotte Zwerin)
    Muhammad and Larry (1980) (Netflix)
    Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic (1985, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson, Pat Jaffe)
    Ozawa (1986, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
    Islands (1986, with Charlotte Zwerin) (Netflix-set)
    Christo in Paris (1990, with Deborah Dickson and Susan Froemke)

    Selected filmography by Albert Maysles
    Psychiatry in Russia (1955)
    Horowitz Plays Mozart (1987, with Susan Froemke, Charlotte Zwerin) (Found on YouTube here, 50 mins.)
    Jessye Norman Sings Carmen (1989, with Susan Froemke)
    They Met in Japan (1989, with Susan Froemke)
    Soldiers of Music: Rostropovich Returns to Russia (1991, with Susan Froemke, Peter Gelb and Bob Eisenhardt)
    Abortion: Desperate Choices (1992, with Susan Froemke and Deborah Dickson)
    Baroque Duet (1992, with Susan Froemke, Peter Gelb, Pat Jaffe)
    Accent on the Offbeat (1994, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
    Umbrellas (1995, with Henry Corra, Grahame Weinbren) (Netflix)
    Letting Go: A Hospice Journey (1996, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
    Concert of Wills: Making the Getty Center (1997, with Susan Froemke, Bob Eisenhardt)
    LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton (2000, with Susan Froemke, Deborah Dickson)
    The Gates (2005, with Antonio Ferrera)
    The Beales of Gray Gardens (2006) (Netflix)
    Sally Gross: The Pleasure of Stillness (2007)
    Close Up: Portraits (2008)
    Rufus Wainwright – Milwaukee At Last (2009) (Netflix)
    Hollywood Renegade: The Life of Budd Schulberg (2009) (Cinematographer)
    The Love We Make (2011, with Bradley Kaplan, Ian Markiewicz) (Netflix "save")
    Iris (2014) (Netflix)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-06-2015 at 06:18 AM.

  3. #3
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    MAYSLES FESTIVAL, San Francisco, Program


    Friday May 8
    6:00 Skype conversation with three-time Academy Award-winner, Haskell Wexler,
    and legendary Direct Cinema pioneer, D.A. Pennebaker.
    Salesman 7:00, 9:30 (91)
    Meet Marlon Brando 8:45, 11:15 (29).
    Saturday, May 9
    Gimme Shelter 12:30, 3:30, 7:00 (90)
    Running Fence 2:00, 5:45, 9:15 (58)
    Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! 10:30 (27)
    Sunday, May 10
    The Gates 2:00, 5:00, 8:00 (87)
    Stephen Lighthill introduces the 2:00. Jon Else conducts Q and A after the 2:00 (at 3:40) and introduces the 5:00 and conducts
    Q and A after the 5:00 (at 6:30)
    Christo’s Valley Curtain 4:00, 6:45, 9:30 (28)
    Monday, May 11
    The Love We Make 7:00, 9:15 (91)
    [The post-9/11 Concert for New York City organized by Paul McCartney]
    Orson Welles - Spain 8:40 (10)
    Anastasia 8:50 (8)
    Tuesday, May 12
    Islands 6:30, 9:00 (57)
    Umbrellas 7:30, 10:00 (81) .
    Wednesday, May 13
    6:15 Skype conversation with Susan Froemke, long-time co-director with Albert Maysles.
    Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton 7:00, 9:15 (88)
    The Met in Japan 8:30 (21)
    Thursday, May 14
    Grey Gardens 7:00 (94)
    Horowitz Plays Mozart 8:40 (50)
    Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! 9:30
    Tickets $12.50, $10 seniors and students.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-23-2015 at 07:24 PM.

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    ORSON WELLES IN SPAIN (Maysles brothers 1963)



    A glimpse of Orson pitching a project

    ORSON WELLES IN SPAIN was made in 1963 and is a 10-minute film in which Welles pitches a film to well dressed people, that was to have been a fictional narrative about important, chic -- and obsessed -- bullfight aficionados. It was to be entirely improvised based on Welles' predetermined structure as laid out in his own written script. The film, like so many Welles projects, apparently did not finally see the light of day. It's very experimental nature may have been a drawback. Welles' eloquence and fluency are much in evidence. Spanish music is included at the beginning and end along with some images of a major Spanish Plaza de Torros. The film seamlessly edits together several different moments, as they will do at greater length in the longer Marlon Brando film they made a couple of years later. An online commentator suggests that a lot of the idea pitched by Welles here, including the character of Jake Hannaford, he transferred to his The Other Side of the Wind, a hitherto unreleased film whose cast includes John Huston, Robert Random, and Peter Bogdanovich, which is listed on IMDb as coming out 5 May 2015.

    A print of this little early 16mm color Maysles film portrait of Orson Welles can be found on the website here.

    The Maysles brothers did some commercial work at the outset, starting in the late Fifties to make films together. A notable effort was a promotional film for IBM, for which they were apparently handsomely paid.

    All the films in this thread were screened in connection with the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival organized by David L. Brown at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, May 8 - 14, 2015
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-24-2015 at 08:34 PM.

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    MEET MARLON BRANDO (Maysles brothers 1965)


    Marlon turns on the charm, jousts with interviewers

    MEET MARLON BRANDO (1965) is an amusing, (sort of) revealing 28-minute film, apparently mostly shot in and around a New York hotel, sequencing and overlapping several short interviews with Brando, some of them intended to be plugs for the movie Morituri, directed by Bernard Wicki (who Brando says smoked bad-smelling cigars). Brando dodges questions, kids around with men, and flirts with the women. One of the latter is 22, another 21, one who was a former Miss USA. Brando is in good humor and amusing and light-hearted, except when he's asked about the "plight of the American Indian," when he turns serious and cites grim statistics.

    Meet Marlon Brando is sort of informal, certainly tongue-in-cheek, and shows Brando managing to seem himself while performing behind a good-natured persona, while not really cooperating or revealing anything he doesn't want to reveal. Television journalists (apparently) are interviewing the star about a then new film, but Brando counters their futile questions, a blurb says "with wit and insight, a man unwilling to sell himself." "It's a wonderful show," one woman comments about the new project. "Did you see it?" he asks. "No, I haven't seen it yet." "Then how do you know?" Always smiling and never modest, Marlon Brando shines in one of his most revealing performances. One may compare this with the young Bob Dylan's relentless baiting of interviewers in Don't Look Back, the classic doc shot about a year later by the Maaysles brothers' close colleague D.A. Pennebaker. Never, it would seem, was here a time like the mid to late Sixties for finding naive interviewers and celebrities unwilling to be manipulated.

    The film premiered at the New York Film Festival in 1966, and has been telecast "with much acclaim" (the Maysles site says)in France. Brando shows off his knowledge of French here, which would be observed later in Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. Reactions to this short film were gushy. The NY Times said "the actor was never morea appealing than in this candid camera cameo." The Post goes further: "possibly the best and most appealing personal portrait of a major film star ever made." And the pull quotes from Variety are "enchanting. . . clever. . . delightful. . . beguiling." Steve Riley references moments from this film to show Brando's dodgy sexual playfulness in his recent documentary biography, Listen to Me Marlon (New Directors/New Films 2015). It should be noted, though, that there's nothing particularly "candid" in these interviews. Brando shows both shyness and a desire to enchant, without revealing anything. But he is so good humored that he succeeds in making the American male interviewer seem to want to be in on the fun, and the French male journalist to be quite respectful.

    He is all that, and Brando in his dazzling early career was unmatched for youth, sex appeal, and charm. A clip from this film, one of several where he turns back the questioning to the pretty interviewer to interview her and draw attention to her looks, is used in the new comprehensive feature-length documentary biography by Steve Riley, Listen to Me Marlon (New Directors/New Films 2015, where Riley is showing Brando's dodgy sexual playfulness. It should be noted, though, that there's nothing particularly "candid" in these interviews. Brando shows both shyness and a desire to enchant, without revealing anything. But he is so good humored that he succeeds in making the American male interviewer seem to want to be in on the fun, and the French male journalist to be quite respectful.

    This, like the Welles film, shows its famous subject performing as himself in public, but even here we can see the Maysles' uncanny ability to get up close to their subjects unnoticed and keep them relaxed. Behind this performance there is a certain sexism toward the ladies, since he is unwilling to let them do their job for very long. There is a hostility to commerce, because he clearly wants to act and not promote his films. There may be an awareness that the new movie is very far from his best work. And there is the constant desire to charm the public without revealing anything much or being forced to act serious, except when he wants to.

    In the most unusual moment, Brando interrupts the interviewer in French, who has asked him to speak about the situation of black people, to call attention to a pretty woman walking on the sidewalk with a small child in tow. "C'est fantastique, cette femme!" Marlon exclaims. She is brought over, and turns out to be black. He then declares that he is not qualified to comment on the situation of Negroes in America, but she is. He asks her if the government is doing what it needs to do for the Negro, and she quickly and emphatically declares that it is not. Brando's flirtatiousness vies with his nimbleness in conversation here, not to mention his gameness in making his way in French. What a guy! And he was a pretty damn good actor, too, I've heard.

    In 16 mm. black and white, Meet Marlon Brando is identified as edited by long-time collaborator Charlotte Zwerin. Actually the Maysles were to use the 28-minute length again, to remarkably powerful and epic effect, in their first Christo film, Christo's Falley Curtain (1974). All the films in this thread were screened in connection with the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival organized by David L. Brown at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, May 8 - 14, 2015
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-24-2015 at 08:34 PM.

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    SALESMAN (Maysles brothers 1968)



    The Maysles' debut feature is a devastating and fluid image of the American dream

    SALESMAN (1968). Albert, the longer lived of the great documentarians, the Maysles (pronounced "MAY-zuls") brothers (David, the younger brother, died in his fifties in 1987) said in the Criterion Collection edition apropos of this, their classic first feature, Salesman: "I've always had a kind of almost religious excitement about the fact that you can really record reality with a great deal of exactitude, as long as you don't carry with you the baggage of prejudgment, of preconception. You have to throw all that stuff aside, and depict with an open mind what you as an artist with a camera find interesting. It isn't just a fly on the wall. It has to be a camera with love. It has to be a camera with empathy." He says this with an Irish-tinged Boston accent, very like the accents of the subjects of the film, their debut feature.

    The grainy black and white film has an immaculate and classic look. It is free of narration or commentary or interviews, the sound and image seamless, all recorded with perfect access only by Albert using a camera he had built and David using a a separate synchronized Nagra for the sound, a method that allowed them to work more seamlessly and in longer stretches before the days of digital. . They called it "cinema direct," or Direct Cinema, and didn't like the word "vérité," finding it pretentious and alien to their own humble Boston origins.

    The Willy Loman, Eugene O'Neill grimness of the life of these men on the road selling Catholic Bibles to poor people in Opa-locka, a town outside Miami, is palpable. But the essential thing to know is that the Maysles brothers feel close to this world and affectionate toward these men. They themselves were Jewish, but they came from the same lower middle class part of Boston as these Irish Catholic salesmen. The joke was, as told by Paul Brennan in his fake Irish brogue, that the Irish were supposed to have civil service jobs, and the Jews should have been the salesmen, but the filmmakers' father was a postal clerk, and these poorly educated Irish guys were out selling, a job they weren't, or at least Paul Brennan, despite his years of experience, wasn't suited for. Salesman is stunning and true because it is a labor of love. And, of course, it is beautifully edited and given a structure by Ellen Gifford and Charlotte Zwerin. In the end it is a story of American falsehood and the American dream, lives on the edge lived by lower class people (Albert Maysles' term). "It's a film," Albert says in the Criterion commentary, "that questions the very core of capitalism, of our belief in the individual." And it was too strong in its simple truth-telling: it took them twenty-five years to get it shown on television. It has taken some of us longer than that to be ready to look at it.

    Salesman's surface simplicity and focus, its clean, uncluttered, grainy, 16mm., black and white images, give it, in retrospect, a kind of searing, diamond-bright perfection. It's not an easy film to watch, but nothing impure, didactic, or ironic appears in the picture it provides, the Maysles' first great picture of what Direct Cinema meant in their hands. The film depicts nothing extermal to these four Irish Catholic Bible salesmen in Chicago and Florida one winter in 1966. The first essential is the smooth, light method of working Albert and David had developed, their confidernt, friendly ability to walk into a house the salesmen visited or linger in their motel room, filming virtually unnoticed. It took skill and empathy. You either have it or you don't. The second essential is the men's own willingness to be filmed, without acting. Or at least without seeming to. After the film was made, Paul Brennan said to someone he was an "actor," perhaps wishful thinking, but it had a bad effect: it led to Pauline Kael's calling all this a lie and claiming the Maysles had hired roofing salesmen to pose as Bible salesmen. (In the event, Penelope Gilliatt wrote the favorable New Yorker review praising its humor and elegance.)

    It was not planned or anticipated, but the salesman of the four whom the Maysles chose to concentrate on, Paul Brennan, turned out to be having a grim time indeed. In Florida Paul spends two weeks unable to come up with a single sale. And of the four he was the one who tended to take dry periods particularly hard. We see that his own attitude is bringing him down, when the other three perform better with less effort; but there is no need to point to this, it's just there.

    The men live in the simple motels of the time, which look pathetic today. They smoke a lot, to a contemporary American eye suicidally much, or at least to a degree you'd think would turn off the customers. But such things went unnoticed then. They wear dark suits, short sleeved white shorts and thin black ties, go periodically to company meetings where they're threatened and cajoled and hear men tall lies about their successes that can only be depressing to those, like Paul, who know first hand the truth is otherwise.

    As the Maysles saw, and Albert's commentary underlines, there is no real togetherness among the men. They had worked together for years. They had pet names for each other, making them like cartoon characters: the Rabbit, the Gipper, the Bull; and Paul was the Badger. But in these barren circumstances, there little room for real camaraderie. The epithets seem to distance them. They prey off their poor clients and they compete with each other.

    The film looks extraordinary now. Some then were impressed by it, but others were put off. The truth it shows is too hard to bear. The church gave parishioners something to fill out, expressing an interest. The company was in touch with the Catholic Church, perhaps. So to get a foot in the door, the salesmen say "We're from the church." But they are not from the church. And they are selling almost exclusively to people who can't afford it -- because richer people don't fall for Bible salesmen. This also makes Paul Brennan more angry, because he is struggling with those who say they haven't the money, and it's true.

    Albert Maysles recounts that they showed the film to groups of potential buyers. From one group all walked out before the film was over. One woman remained, and when he looked, she was crying. She was the woman who was to become his wife.

    Salesman, 85 mins., was edited by regular collaborator Charlotte Zwerin, along with Ellen Giffoard and Barbara Jarvis. Sound recorded by David Maysles, cameraman Albert Maysles. Sound mixer Dick Vorosek. Screened for this review on the Criterion Collection film (for a more explicit spelling out of the themes see the Criterion essay by Toby Miller), for the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival May 8 - 14, 2015 at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco. See also Chris Dashiell in Cinescene.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-23-2015 at 10:52 PM.

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    GET YER YA-YA'S OUT (Maysles brothers 1970)



    SALESMAN 1968 85 MINS.
    GET YER YA-YA'S OUT 1970 28 MINS.
    GREY GARDENS 1975 100 MINS.
    ISLANDS 1986/87 58 MINS..
    CHRISTO IN PARIS 1990 57 MINS. (Not in the SF festival)
    UMBRELLAS 1994 81 mins.
    THE GATES 2005/07 98 MINS.
    IRIS 2014 73 MINS.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-07-2015 at 11:59 PM.

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    GIMME SHELTER (Maysles brothers 1970)



    The Maysles chronicle a rock concert that went terribly wrong

    Gimme Shelter, about the Rolling Stones' disastrous free concert in California in 1969, is one of the Meysles brothers' three most famous documentaries, the other two being their debut, Salesman, about four working class Irish Catholics hawking expensive Bibles to poor people in Opa-lacka, Florida, and their inimitable portrait of the two eccentric Bouvier Beale ladies in their crumbling East Hampton mansion, Grey Gardens . All three were made within only seven years of each other. And yet they are worlds apart.

    The Stones film is directed by David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, and edited by Ellen Gifford, Robert Farren, Joanne Burke, and Kent McKenney. It comes after the Maysles 28-minute Madison Square Garden Stones concert film called Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out and uses some footage from that film in its first part, including a scene of the stones on a highway posing with a donkey -- along with sequences of San Francisco celebrity lawyer Melvin Belli in his colorful office conducting conference calls to set up the venue for the concert. The conceit, and a telling one, is to edit the key segment of Gimme Shelter as a long flashback. The footage of the disastrous event is thus framed by shots of the Stones, Mick Jagger in the foreground with his face glued to a screen, watching the Maysles' concert-and-fighting footage on monitors and reacting. At the end there is a freeze-frame of Mick's solemn expression as they walk out of the screening room; David Maysles is behind them with his headphones on as usual.

    After this, as a quiet coda, we are returned to the concert film to see the youthful crowd walking away in the bright sunny morning, looking fine, suggesting that for some, Altamont was not, after all, a nightmare. But earlier as we watch the footage the Stones are watching, we have seen many people writhing and naked and some clearly going through bad drug trips. And we have seen scuffling, beating with pool cues, and the stabbing. In this setting, the Rolling Stones don't look or sound very good. In the screening room, we see Mick shown in slo-mo and freeze-frame how Meredith Hunter, the 18-ear-old black art student in the green suit, got stabbed o death by a big Hells Angel. And we see Mick and the other musicians struggling to perform while the unruly masses press upon the musicians, as Hells Angels brutally beat them back.

    Why, we wonder, was Woodstock, a much more complex event with many performers, a festival of peace and love, while this California free concert was a nightmare of disorder and fighting up close to the stage? There are two apparent answers from the film: haste, and Hells Angels.

    The film follows the Maysles' Direct Cinema approach so nothing is explained that the footage does not itself make clear. But we hear early on a news report that there were four births and four deaths at the concert. There were many injuries as well. As for the matter of haste, it becomes clear that Altamont Speedway wasn't the first venue for the Stones' free concert. According to a Wikipedia article, San Jose State practice field was originally proposed, then Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, then Sears Point racetrack, and all were scratched, the latter at the last minute. Time was running out and, with Melvin Belli doing the maneuvering, Altamont was chosen as a last-minute measure. Woodstock's Bethel, NY venue was a last minute move from Wallkill, NY. But Woodstock had been months in the preparation, Altamont was not, and became a much worse failure of preparation, without toilets or medical tents, or parking, and with a generally more violent atmosphere. And the terrain where the stage had to be set up was wrong for a big concert. Instead of being at the top of a rise as Sears Point would have been, the stage was lower than the audience at Altamont, causing the audience to flow down onto it. This appears to be why the Hells Angels were asked to provide security, something Jefferson Airplane had done, but another huge miscalculation, because the bikers seemed bent on mayhem.

    At Altamont the acts were Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with the Rolling Stones the final act. We get more of a view of Jefferson Airplane -- and the fighting and hassles are already causing the musicians to interrupt their performance, as the Hells Angels knock out Marty Balin of The Jefferson Airplane.

    Gimme Shelter is not much of a concert film, or even much of a film about a collective event. As either, it pales in comparison with Michael Wadleigh's festive and engrossing Woodstock. But it's a remarkable film, and as coverage of a dangerous situation that was to be a kind of ugly landmark, the Mayesles' film is bold and intense stuff. Sadly, it is ultimately more memorable than Wadleigh's colorful chronicle as an event film. It vividly illustrates how unwise it could be to pack an estimated 300,000 people into spaces that are not designed for such a purpose, and how dangerous it is to mix youth, drugs, and alcohol in an environment without adequate organization or control. Altamont was greeted as the end of the flower child era of peace and love. Though this was premature, the Haight Ashbury section of San Francisco did go rather quickly downhill after the 1967 Summer of Love. Altamont took place in the wintertime. Rock has its dark side, and it should be noted that the Stones' opening number at Altamont was "Sympathy for the Devil."

    In addition to its footage at the start from Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out of the Stones performing in Madison Square Garden and out on a highway with a donkey, Gimme Shelter also shows them in a recording studio in the South. This feels like filler, and recycling, but perhaps it is necessary to provide a framework and easy slowly into the main action.

    Gimme Shelter is not a pleasant film to watch -- still disturbing after all these years, and particularly painful for anyone who ever wanted to believe that Berkeley and San Francisco were the home of the Flower Generation. Did the Oakland chapter of Hells Angels like the Rolling Stones? It doesn't look like it. The Maysles are just telling it like it is. Five years earlier they had made a very different British invasion film, the lighthearted What's Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A. (1964), recording cooing, screaming girls and relaxed and intimate scenes from the first visit of the Fab Four, with John, George, Paul and Ringo looking surprisingly young and sweet. With remarkable access and foresight in both cases, the Maysles skillfully recorded the most famous representatives of the two opposite sides of the rock music coin. Gimme Shelter records an event that was taken as the decisive sign that the hippie period had turned sour and big outdoor rock had shown its ugly, violent side.

    Gimme Shelter, 91 mins., debuted in the US 6 December 1970, on the one-year anniversary of the Altamont concert. Screened for this review on the Criterion Collection DVD, with commentary by Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin and the KSAN discussion radio post mortem, on the occasion of the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival organized by David L. Brown at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, May 8 - 14, 2015.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-08-2015 at 01:02 PM.

  9. #9
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    CHRISTO'S VALLEY CURTAIN (Maysles brothers 1974)



    The Maysles first Christo film depicts the excitement of project's final stage

    With the environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the completed project and the public viewing of it are only the tip of the iceberg. Their own website calls that final, brief, physical part of the work -- what the public sees -- the "hardware," the rest, all that leads up to and surrounds thee work, the "software." The software is the long period, and all the effort, leading up to the completion of the project. This is where the Maysles films come in handy in a way the handsome Abrams art books for each of the big Christo probjects can't, because you need films to show the process. Stills and text can't convey all the interactions nearly as well as the documentary filmmakers.

    Christo's Valley Curtain has this value, although it shows up even better in later Maysles films about the art. The project, which was completed in 1972, consisted of bright orange fabric extended between two Rifle Gap Colorado mountain slopes on wires, and dropped down toward the ground like a curtain. "Running Fence," which came four years later (and took that long to prepare and fund and get permission for), was a longer -- much longer, over 24 miles -- extension of somewhat the same thing, a fabric "curtain" (even though it was called "fence"), but only 18 feet high, and over rolling semi-barren hills. This first Maysles Christo film is only 28 minutes long. It focuses on the ticklish few days when the "curtain" went up. The engineers or roustabouts -- as usual with the Maysles, there's no voiceover or titles -- are up there, and there isn't any horde of temp laborers involved, like the 300 my sister and I were to join with in the final stage of "Running Fence." At Rifle Gap, Maysles cameraman is up there with them, as well as on a golf course, and off in another direction, providing a view. We don't see crowds this time. What we see is a dangerous, ticklish, nerve-wracking project involving a crew of construction people, and engineer, and camp followers. And they are all very tired and excited. "Ya gotta wanta do it!" yells one worker, and "This is a vision, boy!" exclaims another when it's up. The Maysles capture how thrilled people involved in "Valley Curtain" are, and awed at Christo's imagination and boldness at thinking up such an idea. Wind made it tricky to unfurl the curtain, and 28 hours after it was up, "gale made it necessary to start the removal," the artist website says. This is a pungent and unusual little film. There had not been one like it before. This is the most "hardware"-focused of the Maysles Christo films: it focuses very much on the final physical execution phase of the project. However it does show Christo constantly drawing, drawing, drawing projections of "Valley Curtain" back at their home in New York: this film crosses back and forth between times, preview stage and execution stage. Christo is a tireless draftsman, and his drawings not only provide the income for the projects by selling them to museums and collectors, but are his accurate imagining of what the project will look like. In one sequence Christo says "It's just like the drawing!" And they always are.

    Christo's Valley Curtain, 28 mins., opened 10 March 1974 in New York, and showed in the Chicago festival 11 October. It was nominated for an Oscar (Albert Maysles, David Maysles) for Best Documentary Short, 1978. Included in Plexifilm's 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude box set (2004) with artists' commentary track from that period as bonus material. All the films in this thread were screened in connection with the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival organized by David L. Brown at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, May 8 - 14, 2015.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-27-2015 at 03:42 PM.

  10. #10
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    GREY GARDENS (Maysles brothers 1975)



    Visiting the Beale ladies

    This look into the cloistered but oddly sprightly lives of two aristocratic wrecks has become a cult film and is perhaps the Maysles brothers' most famous documentary film, though their debut feature Salesman and the rock and roll nightmare Gimme Shelter are also serious contenders. Boring, annoying, repetitious, fascinating, hilarious, and depressing by turns, it's one of Albert Maysles' studies in humanistic sympathy unique enough to have been made into a 2006 musical that played on Broadway and won several awards and many nominations. Why is this film famous? Many reasons, though it takes time to perceive them. First of all, there are the essential ingredients of an observational documentary: patience, sympathy, good access -- and good editors. David and his brother Albert Maysle visit repeatedly one summer, filming this eccentric, politely squabbling pair of recluses who argue over the missed opportunities of the past. Albert announces them as "the gentlemen callers" when they arrive, in an opening segment, showing that the Maysles will be known presences in this film, not invisible as in, for instance, Salesman. Sometimes the ladies address them, flirt with them, even feed them spread on crackers, as at a cocktail party.

    "Grey Gardens" was the name of the decrepit 28-room East Hampton beach-side mansion occupied by Jackie Kennedy's reclusive aunt and cousin, Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, and her daughter Edith Bouvier Beale. "Big Edie" and "Little Edie," as they were known, lived in disarray, with cats, raccoons and other animals in the attic (whom LIttle Edie leaves food for). The big garden is totally overgrown. When the film one day shows Little Edie go down to the water for a swim -- she proves an excellent swimmer, a key perhaps to her good figure -- Albert pans back to reveal the extremely large and elegant neighbor houses. (A website for the house reports Martha Stewart now lives down the street.) Both ladies seem to survive on a diet of pâté and ice cream. The health department has made "raids" on the house and with financial help from help from Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwil it's been "cleaned up," but we see only a couple of messy rooms. Still photos and descriptions from other sources indicate much of the house was a garbage-ridden horror smelling badly of animals; but the Maysles are very sparing in documenting this, preferring to focus on the ladies and their interactions. This film is about them, and how, with some bravery and panache, they survive amid the wreckage.

    Archetypal recluses living on a diet of dreams, memories, resentments, and regrets, the two Edies are like northern versions of characters in a Tennessee Williams play. Though nothing much happens, they still put on quite a show. We enjoy their clothes, their accents, and their high-level dysfunctionality. To begin with, both former beauties, socialites, and singing talents (Bit Edie did some successful cabaret), the ladies keep the visuals interesting by dressing in a vivid succession of startling, varied, improvised outfits, bathrobes or overly revealing tucks for the bosomy, bespectacled, 80-year-old Big Edie, colorful turbans and revealing matching wraps or bathing suits for Little Edie, these always secured (at a different place) by the same gold butterfly broach. Sometimes Little Edie hasn't done her makeup and comes to the door an alien, without eyebrows. Has she no hair, or terrible hair; or is she just unwilling to be seen badly coiffed? Anyway, she never, never appears without a different turban. With her cultivated tan, when fully made up Little Edie is attractive; as her mother says, "you look very young for 56 years of age." It shows that she was a fashion model, among other things. And she likes to sing and dance and perform for Albert's camera. A performance she does with a little American flag is a show-stopper. Where have Albert and David been all these years? she wonders, at one point, suggesting David might be a suitable mate. One of the topics the two Edies ruminate and argue over are the many possible husbands Little Edie at various stages has rejected. At one point Little Edie expresses the realization that she could never accept a man who was not musical, an element lacking with various stockbrokers and tennis players.

    Partly the ladies are playing for the camera, partly for each other or just for themselves: their "performances" are auditions, debates, and diaries. They engage in nonstop dialogues, Big Edie always seated or in bed, Little Edie usually on her feet or with her long, shapely gams fetchingly crossed to show off white high-heeled shoes. From time to time the dialogue turns into overlapping monologues. Little Edie, who has a conspiratorial, paranoid and superstitious streak and likes to read from a horoscope book, comes up fisheye- and whisper-close to the camera to murmur confidences, suspicions, or complaints. She can't stand another winter here. Her mother, or so she claims, drove away the only recent suitor, a 25-years-younger penniless Russian refugee, a relative of the Obolensky family.

    At the time of Big Edie's 80th birthday, an unidentified couple arrives, wine is served, a cake is brought out, and the couple promptly departs. From tie to time there is a black handyman named Brooke, for whom Big Edie writes a check. More often there is Jerry,* a pretty 20-something assistant gardener to neighbors with luxuriant hair who seems a hanger-on, and whom Little Edie calls the "Marble Faun," the allusion to Hawthorne belying her very spotty education, as revealed by her misquoting the opening of Frost's "The Road Not Taken." Certainly an apt title, though.

    On release this film was attacked as cruel voyeurism. But Albert Maysles, whose long career was marked by love an humanism, said that was because people were disturbed by the individualism of the Beale ladies. "Their days are spent not on the pursuit of success or social recognition," he said, "but on cherishing their conflicted loving relationship, entertaining each other (and us) with witticisms, wordplay, songs, poetry, dancing, and recitations of memories of their past."

    Grey Gardens, 100 mins., debuted at the New York Film Festival; other festivals. Filmed by David Maysles and Albert Maysles; edited by codirectors Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer. Viewed in 2006 Criterion Collection DVD, with commentary. A remastered theatrical print came out in March 2015 just after the death of Albert Maysles at 88. Besides the musical, there was also a 2009 HBO movie starring Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange as the two Edies. In a 2014 Sight and Sound poll, film critics voted Grey Gardens the joint ninth best documentary film of all time (shared with Pennebaker's Bob Dylan doc Don't Look Back). There is a Maysles sequel of outtakes called The Beales of Grey Gardens. From that here's all about Jerry on YouTube. All the films in this thread were screened in connection with the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival organized by David L. Brown at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, May 8-14, 2015.

    *Jerry Torre. He now has his own documentary, The Marble Faun of Grey Gardens recounting his life since the film.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-03-2015 at 12:25 AM.

  11. #11
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    RUNNING FENCE (Mayeles brothers 1977)



    The experience of "Running Fence"

    Through an odd series of circumstances I, with my sister, worked with the 600 temps in the last stage of installing "Runners Fence," and then I wound up on the cover of Runner's World running on a hill beside it with the white ribbon of fabric extending and winding far off into the distance. So I feel a personal connection with this artwork, and with the artists. But I had not seen all of the Maysles' Christo films until now. I wanted to write about, and maybe run along, "Running Fence" because I was into distance running, and into art as well. (It was the height of the running craze in America and I was running in races; my art career didn't take off till eight years later.) The magazine was interested, however silly an idea it was: obviously the "running" in "Running Fence" referred to something different.

    When the project was threatened by objections in Marin County to running the fence and fabric down into the ocean, this tussle became the top of the national TV news. And this caused the editors of Runner's World to make my piece their cover story. I had met Jeanne-Claude and Christo, and he insisted I had to work on the project so I'd have the "Running Fence" T shirt and therefore would not be trespassing or jeopardize the project. So I agreed. This work wound up making any running out of the question.

    When the holes had been sunk across the land and the poles planted in them over a three-month period to lay out the plan of "Running Fence's" 24 1/2 mile length, the 600 temp workers, my sister and I included, were brought in to hang the fabric and unfurl it. This last stage was supposed to take three days. Snags came up, partly because the crew was so green, and it took longer, and my sister and I didn't make it to the end. It was exhausting work.

    At one point it was expected that there would be an injunction issued to prevent running the fence into the water. The whole crew was rushed to the small Marin County part of the 24-mile "Fence" to put up the fabric there, before the injunction came. In the end, a judge blocked the injunction. But there was big excitement. This was one of the memorable experiences of those years for me.

    Running Fence faced trouble with the setting up due to wind too, as did "Valley Curtain." It is clearly a strung-out fabric in nature idea that's basically similar to "Valley Curtain," but the effect was to be far more spectacular and sweeping, since it moved out, weaving back from side to side over many winding hills. I'm prejudiced, because I was there, working on "Running Fence" in its last few days of installation, and fell under the influence of the charismatic, wonderfully driven Christo and his charming, fiery wife Jeanne-Claude, as everybody did. But I find this the most beautiful of all Christo and Jeanne-Claude's fabric-in-nature projects -- not counting the wraps of structures, which go back to his earliest work in Paris, but are a different kind of thing.

    Running Fence, the Maysles brothers documentary, is not long -- fifty-eight minutes, but, the editing of Maysles regular collaborator Charlotte Zwerin, working with Donald Klocek, is a model of concision. It covers the essentials of the project, which took four years to set up, and cost $3 million, or $12.5 million n today's dollars. I have focused on the hanging-the-fabric stage of "Running Fence," but the Maysles' film differs from their earlier Christo's Valley Curtain in that much of it takes place during the arguably more crucial stage, from Christo's point of view, before the fabric is hung, before the project is even approved. (The local board hearings and meetings with government people play a big part also in the 1987 Maysles Christo film, Islands.)

    The artist couple drove all over looking for ideal land for "Running Fence," and they chose the semi-barren Sonoma County ranch land well. It has a nice rolling quality, and it is semi-barren, setting off the gleaming white of the fabric. It took about four years to get permission for this project. It was to traverse the properties of over fifty ranches, but most of the ranchers were relatively easy to convince; not that easy. We see Christo and Jeanne-Claude struggling to convince an Italian-American afraid visitors attracted to the roads would cause fires. Mainly, though, it's the bureaucrats that made trouble.

    A priceless moment is provided by the ranch wife who gets up to say that some of her meals are works of art, in her opinion, but they're gone right away, so this could be the same. Christo says, in his slightly rough but nonetheless incisive English, "The work is not just the project, the steel poles and the fence. The project is right here. Everybody is part of my work. If they want or don't want, anyway they are part of my work." His vision is democratic: "I think that 20th-century art is not a single individualistic experience," he goes on. "It is a very deep political, economic, social experience I live right now with everybody here. And it's nothing involved with the make-believe."

    The film manages to sketch in all aspects: the mocking bystanders before the "Fence" goes up, the cajoling of the ranchers, the many bureaucratic conflicts, the vote of approval at the end, then the fabric -- and the struggle with the wind, with hapless temps looking like greenhorns working on a sailboat in a storm. And of course the happy moment when it's all up, glowing and lovely in the setting sun, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude hug. We do glimpse the whole experience and meaning of their art here, as partly I did. It's a great film.

    Running Fence, 59 mins., debuted at Chicago Oct. 1977, and opened theatrically in San Francisco March 1, 1978 and New York, April 11, 1978. Included in Plexifilm's 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude box set (2004) with artists' commentary track from that period as bonus material. All the films in this thread were screened in connection with the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival organized by David L. Brown at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, May 8 - 14, 2015.

    "RUNNING FENCE" 1976 photo Wolfgang Volz
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-02-2015 at 12:11 PM.

  12. #12
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    ISLANDS (Maysles brothers 1987)



    Juggling Christo projects; an aquatic idea from Jeanne-Claude

    If you have been following he Maysles brothers' Christo films, it will not surprise you that in this third one, made in 1987, there is much focus on Christo and Jeanne-Claude shuttling back and forth between different countries pursuing three, sometimes four, different projects -- because they don't know when a project will get the permit. Actually 37 projects have been rejected, 19 succeeded. Here they are pursuing "Surrounded Islands," the artists' project to, temporarily, ring a series of seven miles of 11 small man-made and at that time littler- strewn islands in 9 configurations in shallow waters of Biscayne Bay, near Miami. Part of the project was to clear away the litter; they left the environment better than they found it.

    But the Maysles brothers are also following them around to Paris, Bonn, and Berlin, as they pursue permits for "Wrapped Reischstag" and "The Pont Neuf Wrapped," the first of which took 24 years to get the permit, the second, 10 years. This film provides a good picture of how the artists live and work, but with its constant shifting of dates and locations, it's more disorienting and less involving than the other Maysles Christo films.

    "Surrounded Islands" turned out to be a relative snap, requiring only three years, though a very difficult lawsuit, a week in federal court, at the very last minute, was involved, with 17 lawyers on their side (this from the DVD commentary, which provides all the specific information the Direct Cinema method leaves out). They have particular trouble with a Miami councilman named Harvey Ruvin, who opposes the project, then demands a large sum of money be paid to Dade County. Eventually he becomes an ally, when an agreement is made to sell a thousand signed posters of the project and turn over the proceeds to local government. Meanwhile, the Maysles are following Christo and Jeanne-Claude on many plane trips as they shuttle back and forth from New York to Berlin and Paris, pursuing their "Wrapped Reischstag" and "The Pont Neuf Wrapped."

    Sexual politics is involved with "Surrounded Islands," because after the fact Christo reveals it was Jeanne-Claude's idea, but if the officials had known it was his wife's idea and not his, they'd have dismissed it. And if you hear the artists' commentary of the Plexifilms DVD, Christo explains complex technical issues as well, of almost baffling complexity, with much logistical ingenuity by Christo and his engineers and a lot of individual workers involved in unfurling the fabric pieces around the various islands and lacing them together. They had to buy the fabric from Germany, because the millions of square feet was deemed "too small" an order for any American textile company to produce fabric to special order in the special pink color. The light non-nylon fabric was not buoyant enough, so air bubbles had to be injected into the thread. Sunlight and salt faded the pink color rapidly, and many trials had to be conducted to find a tint that lasted. Sewing together the pieces of fabric, which they had to do themselves, was a tremendous job requiring improvised methods, and the task of deploying the fabric and lacing the large panels together was exhausting work for the many hired assistants working in the water, so additional ones had to be brought in. (This comes from the artists' DVD commentary.)

    However, the relative rapidity with which the permission came for "Surrounded Islands" must have been soothing to Christo and Jeanne-Claude while they were dealing with the frustrations of moving forward with "The Pont Neuf Wrapped" and "Wrapped Reischstag." "THe Pont Neuf Wrapped" brings back memories of the couple's early years as a couple, and Jeanne-Claude's aristocratic family. Her parents lived in a chateau in Picardy, and her father was a French general with a "de" in his name. (There will be much more about this family background and the couple's early years in Christo in Paris.)

    Parisian and French governmental politics are tricky. But they are a cinch compared to the tangled web of interests to be negotiated for a chance at wrapping the Reischsttag. Initially, the parliaments of East Germany and West Germany and the Russian, British, French, and American armies all have to give their approval for any temporary use of the Reischstag. From 1971 to 1995 the artists went through six presidents of the German parliament. It was Rita Süssmuth, president from 1988 to 1998, who, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification, made the project possible. Earlier, the artists get a New York home visit from former Chancellor Willy Brandt, who is supportive, and whom Jeanne-Claude finds attractive.

    There is a serenity about "Surrounded Islands," and the film Islands ends with a lot of soothing music, composed for the film by New Age pianist Scott Cossu, which sounds to me a little too much like elevator music and which seems too obtrusive. On the other hand what I do like is the DVD commentary by the artists, made 21 years later. Particularly in describing the practical details and logistics of setting up "Surrounded Islands," Christo, not for the first time, impresses with his almost total recall and is extremely informative, doubling the value of an already remarkable, wide-ranging film.

    Islands, 58 mins., opened 16 October 1987 in New York City. Included in Plexifilm's 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude box set (2004), with artists' commentary track from that period as bonus material. All the films in this thread were screened in connection with the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival organized by David L. Brown at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, May 8 - 14, 2015.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-30-2015 at 09:35 PM.

  13. #13
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    CHRISTO IN PARIS (Albert Maysles 1990)



    "The Pont Neuf Wrapped": big project in the city where Christo and Jeanne-Claude first met

    This film celebrates the "Wrapped Pont Neuf" and also is a nostalgic film reflecting the Maysles' by then already two decades of association with Christo and Jeanne-Claude and familiarity and friendship with them. This film combines the romance of the couple's early life with the story of their most dramatic project in Paris. As the film opens we see the couple smartly dressed, walking arm-in-arm along the Seine as Edith Piaf sings "La vie en rose." The Maysles story of Christo and Jeanne-Clsude is among other things the story of a great romance and an intense artistic working partnership that lasted 51 years. Here, they are admiring the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris. It's the late Seventies. "The Pont Neuf Wrapped" spans from 1975 to 1985; it took place for two weeks in September and October 1985, but it took ten years to get the permission from the city of Paris to do it.

    Some of the footage here of meeting with Jeanne-Claude's father, General Jacques de Guillebon, of a discussion about strategy to pursuede Paris governing officials, including then Mayor Jacques Chirac, to approve the Pont Neuf project, also appears in the Islands film. Here Christo also talks about his childhood (he was born in the Balkans), his parents, his skill at draftsmanship from a very early age, and the telling facts that while his mother was an arts official, his father directed a fabric factory -- whose heavy machinery he drew skillfully as a boy. His father's work was prophetic of his own career: Christo himself was to work with fabric all his life. Also tellingly his older from an early age always referred to him as "Don Quixote." His "useless" but often enormously labor-intensive and long-delayed projects are nothing if not Quixotic.

    We see a series of the very fluent pencil drawings of Christo's youth. We hear about his impoverished early days when he fled to Paris in the late Fifties and he and Jeanne-Claude were first together, he struggling to survive. His humble first small wrapped objects were not very successful, early projects not approved. Jeanne-Claude, the general's daughter, was a debutante. The penniless refugee Christo Javacheff, who painted her mother's portrait -- it was her mother who brought Christo into the house and made him like a son -- was at for her a very dangerous idea. Trying at first to "have it both ways, she slept with Christo, but married a safe, more "appropriate" man, an older French army officer. But in three weeks she ended the marriage, being already pregnant with their son Cyril, and went to live in his "chambre de bonne." Interesting still photos of the time are shown. Jeanne-Claude's parents wouldn't speak to her for a couple years after this. They greatly enjoy recounting these and many other happy and colorful anecdotes to the camera. "I had money and he didn't," Jeanne-Claude says. "I have never used my money for anything. While Christo, without money, could give me a very exciting life." And since we see both of her parents regularly turning up at their big art projects later on, obviously good relations were restored, and then some.

    "The Pont Neuf Wrapped" was Christo and Jeanne-Claude's most difficult project to get approval for up to this time -- ten years. The French politicians, Jeanne-Claude said, were playing ping pong with them. Chirac especially. He agreed to approve the project, but put it off till after elections, and then five months before the time when it was to happen, withdrew support. Actively electioneering around the Pont Neuf and with the communist union at the great Samaritaine department store, they sought to stir up grassroots support. Bypassing Chirac, they went to the socialists, and Mitterand approved it, thanks to his minister of culture Jack Lang.

    The look and feel of the cloth used in the lovely wrapping of the Pont Neuf, Paris' oldest bridge over the Seine, isn't like that used for "Valley Curtain" or "Running Fence." It's beige or champagne colored and soft and light, and it falls in many vertical folds, tied with ropes. As usual, it looks exactly like Christo's drawings. Maysles's film is particularly notable in showing how "Wrapped Pont Neuf" acted as a stimulus to Parisians to talk and argue for hours. It made them rethink the bridge, the idea of "showing" by "concealing," to enjoy the beauty of it, and gave them something to remember, an experience that made them see the bridge forever in a new way. The social stimulation of the work is signaled by the Parisian who says to an opponent he debates with, "Look,I don't know you. You don't know me. If the bridge weren't wrapped, we'd have never spoken to each other." "The Pont Neuf Wrapped" was ephemeral, but is also now a permanent part of the artistic and cultural and even political history of Paris. A warm and enjoyable and celebratory film, one of the best in the series, and among other things a history and memorable homage to the long love and collaboration of Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

    Christo in Paris, 57 mins., was edited by Deborah Dickson. It includes music by Philip Glass and a Bulgarian choir. Credited to Albert and David Maysles, though at the time of release, David had passed away, and it ends with the dedication, "To David." Debuted at Amsterdam, 1990; also Sundance 1991 and Toronto 1991. Included in Plexifilm's 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude box set (2004), with artists' commentary track from that date as bonus material. All the films in this thread were screened in connection with the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival organized by David L. Brown at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, May 8 - 14, 2015.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-30-2015 at 09:30 PM.

  14. #14
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    UMBRELLAS (Albert Maysles 1994)



    Yellow and blue; vicissitudes of nature

    One of the most eventful, suspenseful, and even disturbing of the Maysles Christo films. The "Umbrellas" project consisted of parasols, a bit like giant beach umbrellas, simultaneously set up in large ranch lands of the southern California hills through which the major highway Route 5 passed, and in tiny rice fields worked by a lot of older people in the area of Ibaraki, Japan, 50 miles north of Tokyo. "Project for 6-8 Miles - 3.000 Umbrellas;" Christo's description reads, "Hight 12 Feet Diameter 18 Feet." Christo likened it to a diptych in painting. He said the $26 million project "reflected the similarities and differences in the ways of life and the use of the land in two inland valleys in Japan and the USA." The umbrellas, their parts manufactured in multiple countries, then shipped and assembled in Bakersfield, California, were identical in construction, but yellow in California, and blue in Japan. The period of the project from inception to completion was from 1984 to 1991. Logistically, it was a jet lag nightmare, since Christo and Jeanne-Claude had to fly back and forth between New York, California, and Japan 67 times.

    Nature made it a nightmare too, because freak weather in both places caused damage to the completed project and accidents that led to two fatalities, which had never happened before. Freak winds blew one of the 485-pound umbrellas out of its moorings, and it crushed a woman against a rock and killed her. Christo ordered both California and Japan shut down, and one of the Japanese crew was killed during the dismantling. But this is not to say the project was not completed, and beautiful, and admired by millions of people, in both places. It is simply true that none of the Maysles Christo films better illustrates both the rewarding aesthetic beauty, the pleasure for the onlookers, and the enormous, stressful work and even serious danger of carrying out the "hardware" part of their projects. And before the final shutdown in Japan, Christo ordered a delay to wait for rain to stop, then when it was up, Jeanne-Claude ordered the umbrellas to be closed temporarily because a typhoon was coming. Less expected was a tornado-like event that swept up a group of the yellow umbrellas in California causing the one death and a number of injuries.

    What's memorable in the film, for me, are the images of the umbrellas scattered all over the hot, dry, late sumer California hills like poppy flowers, and the deep indigo umbrellas arranged more geometrically over the rainy autumnal flat damp valley in Japan. When Christo is rushing around in a van trying to look at as many of the blue Japan umbrellas as he can and still catch his plane to California, he is more tired and yelling more frantically than in any of the other films, and he and Jeanne-Claude have harsh words in the van. They always say that they yell at each other. Well, here we see it. But they still say loving goodbyes as Christo finally, reluctantly, heads off to catch the plane to California. As usual, they never fly together, and anyway, she remained in Japan to watch over the project there.

    The permission stage benefitted from the "Running Fence" experience, and the layout slightly resembles in in California, but things were different. While the ranchers were relatively easy to convince of "Running Fence" and the trouble was with the counties and coastal commission, this time the highway department was very helpful, but the landowners a problem to deal with, for "Umbrellas." In Japan there were over 450 of them, and thousands of cups of green tea had to be drunk. Two California counties, Los Angeles and Kent, were involved in the USA segment, the largest segment being the huge Lejon Ranch, which is larger than the state of Rhode Island. They had to be convinced, and then the rest followed. But the film itself gives few details of this process; it is to be found in Christo and Jeanne-Claude's commentary on the Plexifilm DVD, on which the couple also recount the vast distances they both walked over the two terrains painstakingly deciding by trial and error where each umbrella should be placed. The film spends much time on the smiling faces of the photogenic young Japanese onlookers and non-professional helpers.The Japan installation was more intimate, and, as the commentary relates, the Japanese typically revealed themselves more accepting of the concept of objects in nature as "art," while American audiences lectured about the proposal wanted to know how much it cost and who would pay, while the Japanese audience's first question was the aesthetic one: why blue for Japan and yellow for California? Likewise in the commentary, Jeanne-Claude recounts that for the American death, there were lawsuits and a settlement, but for the worker's death in Japan, his family apologized to them.

    Many find Christo's efforts hubristic, and they may seem more so then usual here, and some find Jeanne-Claude "bossy," and she may seem so here. Christo admits, as always, that "there is a profound level of irrationality" in his projects, "done only because me, Christo, wants them." One can see the Maysles Christo films as promotions, as part of the program, certainly not criticism. But my feeling remains that if you follow the whole series, you should become a convert, glad that Christo and Jeanne-Clause existed, to define public and environmental and occasional art in their own special, unique way -- subject to all the vicissitudes of the real, just as an expedition into the wild or a mountain climb will be.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-01-2015 at 01:27 AM.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE GATES (Albert Maysles 2007)



    Winning the home town

    Rather ironically, since they had lived in New York for forty years, it took the environmental artist couple Christo and Jeanne-Claude more than half that time, from 1979 to 2005, to get permission to carry out a major project in their chosen city. Mayor Bloomberg was the official who finally made it possible. Though he said it was all due to Jeanne-Claude, he took no persuading. He said he had always been a fan. The "Gates" were temporary metal arches, 7,500 of them, 16 feet tall, traversing 23 miles of walkways, with free-flapping sheets of deep saffron-colored translucent fabric hung at the top of them, and spaced 12 feet apart, of different widths depending on the pathways they went over. It was up from 12-27 February 2005 and during that time it snowed, setting the project off dramatically. Knowing the city, the artists wisely scheduled the project to brighten and enhance the park at its coldest, most monochrome time.

    In the Maysles Christo films Islands and Christo in Paris, we see the artists meeting with officials in Paris, Bonn, and Berlin. Here we get a look at the style of New York, as we see them meet with a lawyer, a park commissioner, and so on. Like Chirac, fancily dressed, cigarette-brandishing Park Commissioner Gordon Davis appears favorable, but issues a 1981 report denying the project. In between, in many meetings with Harlem people, Manhattan people, university people, Christo and Jeanne-Claude encounter all sorts of opposition. People claim Christo's "Gates" will "deface" the "work of art" that is Central Park. Jeanne-Claude always ripostes that the park is totally man-made. One black figure (a lawyer?) argues favorably that the project's traversing of the whole park unifies the rich lower part with the poor upper part -- a good thing. But then in a Harlem public meeting, a young black man says nobody from Harlem would see it, and the $4-5 million (the then estimate) would do them no good. Money is always a concern of Americans, and of New Yorkers. The French and Germans did not speak of that, nor did the Japanese. New York seems much more hostile than California, but this is a big, volatile, aggressive city. New York is full of interest groups bristling with objections and ready to attack. Maysles' film shows a lot of meanness and nastiness about the project and the frames before the fabric is dropped down -- often from older couples.

    The documentary after 24 of its 64 minutes skips past Dinkins and Giuliani to Bloomberg. We've had enough objections, apparently: Bloomberg didn't need any persuading at all, and what any other official thought didn't matter. Now Christo and Jeanne-Claude, born on the same day and year, are 70 years old. The once youthful perennial project photographer Wolfgang Volz is well into his 50's now. Peter Schjeldahl's dismissive description, "Gated," in The New Yorker, of how Christo projects get permission proves to be untrue. He said what happens with these artists is that here is "a predictable public and bureaucratic resistance," (sometimes there is, sometimes not) "which gradually comes to seem mean-spirited and foolish for want of a reasonable argument against them." Not that Christo and Jeanne-Claude haven't worn down objectors sometimes, but the opponents of the Pont Neuf and the Reischstag and "The Gates" didn't change heart or decide they were being "mean-spirited." It's simply that another official finally arrived who was favorable, and had the power to approve the project over objections of others.

    "The Gates" make for a spectacular film, and a particularly rich picure of public response to the work. More than with "Running Fence" or "Umbrellas," though the ideas is the same, we get a sense of how dramatic the opening is, with Mayor Bloomberg pulling open the first "Gate's" bright orange fabric. (Is "saffron" -- the word Jeanne-Claude insists on -- different from "orange"? Well, "saffron" is a prettier word, and also refers to the robes of Buddhist monks, which are fabric.) At first there were the big orange metal rectangular arches, severe and minimal. You can see them as ugly. Then all of a sudden with milling, excited crowd all around the park, the fabric drops down. The sheets are surprising in their size and length even to those who've seen the drawings. One is struck with the egotism, the irrationality, the invasiveness of the project; its bravery and audacity, Christo's courage and faith in the face of so much opposition over 24 years. Christo, with Jeanne-Claude, couldn't stop wandering around the park, almost goofy, almost a silly old man, "Look, cherie! Look! Look!" with childlike delight in his own creation.

    The film records dozens of reactions, mostly delighted now. It is, of course, perfect for fifth-graders, the ideal audience for art and new things. One lady calls a friend on her cell phone and says she must come, "The whole park is like a theater lobby," she says, "people milling around and chattering in different languages." Many observe that it should be up for a month, or all winter, that two weeks are not enough. But that too is the audacity and brilliance of the artists, to flicker this great, bright, expensive thing in front of everyone's faces, and then as quickly remove it, leaving just a colorful memory, and making fools of all those who said it was a defacement. "People who object are just bad sports," someone says. As always with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, you can debate this endlessly, and that is part of the work. The Maysles film again, better than ever, shows the whole, complex process of a major Christo work of art. Say what you like, these artists have had the power to transform, and probably enhance, the lives of many.

    Ultimately, as the rather prolonged depiction of the public experience of "The Gates" (they had a lot of footage) shows, this was one of the artists' most "successful" projects in how neatly it came off, set up without hitches, shown without problems. As the smart black guy-on-the-street who gets the last word says, he personally liked "Umbrellas" better, but this one worked well as "just a work of art," that has no ultimate meaning, no message. You just look at it, and you pass on. But you walk through it, so you participate.

    The Gates, 98 mins., debuted 6 May 2007 at the Tribeca Film Festival, NYC. Credited to Antonio Ferrera, Albert Maysles, David Maysles (still living when the early segments were made), and Matthew Prinzing. Not included in the Plexifilm edition that has the previous five of the Maysles' six Christo films, and not accompanied by a bonus commentary track as those others are. All the films in this thread were screened in connection with the Albert Maysles Memorial Film Festival organized by David L. Brown at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco, May 8 - 14, 2015.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-02-2015 at 01:56 PM.

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