‘It takes a little courage’: An interview with ‘Gimme Shelter’ filmmaker Albert Maysles
06:08 am

It Takes a Little More Courage is the title and opening line to a brief, all too brief, conversation with documentarian Albert Maysles (1926-2015) filmed by Alfonso Nogueroles in 2012

The gravel-voiced Maysles (pronounced May-zuls) quickly riffed on his work with brother David (1931-87) and discussed what it is needed to make a good documentary—stories.

The Maysles brothers pioneered a brand of documentary-making called Direct Cinema in which they allowed the film’s subjects to speak freely, directly, for themselves without any questions or commentary. The main inspiration for their style of filmmaking came from a rather unlikely source—Truman Capote’s non-fiction novel In Cold Blood. This book led the Maysles to “experiment in film the way Capote had experimented in literature,” or as Albert Maysles later described it:

Making a film isn’t finding the answer to a question; it’s trying to capture life as it is.

Both brothers studied psychology at Boston University and after graduating Albert went onto document psychiatric conditions in Russia, while David moved into working in Hollywood as a production assistant. David grew “disenchanted” with conventional film-making and together with Albert the brothers began making their own documentary films with David on sound and Albert on camera. Their first works together were Russian Close-Up (although only credited to Albert Maysles) and Youth in Poland. Then in 1960, the brothers joined photojournalist Robert Drew’s film company where they worked on projects alongside the likes of Richard Leacock and D. A. Pennebaker. After filming Truman Capote for the launch of his novelized work of non-fiction In Cold Blood (1966), the brothers decided to approach filmmaking in the same way Capote had documented the quadruple murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959 by Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith, and detailed their subsequent trial and execution. Taking Capote’s book as their inspiration, the Maysles went onto create a new kind of revelatory documentary where the story seemingly developed organically. Their works included a look at the business of door-to-door Bible salesmen, Salesman (1969), the Rolling Stones’ fateful appearance at Altamont Gimme Shelter (1970), and the lives of two reclusive upper middle class women, a mother and daughter, who lived together on a derelict estate Grey Gardens (1976). Each of these films changed the way filmmakers thought about and made documentaries.

Nogueroles’s short film It Takes a Little More Courage is a bit like a student project and leaves you wondering how much interview was shot and how much was was edited out. On the up side, it leaves you wanting to go back and watch some of those old Maysles’ masterworks.


Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Death Is Their Destiny’: Home-movies of London punks 1978-81
‘Psychiatry in Russia’: Albert Maysles’ first documentary, 1955
William Burroughs’ cold-blooded letter to Truman Capote

Posted by Paul Gallagher
06:08 am
Who was Meredith Hunter, the young man stabbed to death at Altamont?

Moody, 2006 short by filmmaker Sam Green meditates on the death of Meredith Hunter, the young man stabbed by a Hells Angel at the Rolling Stones’ Altamont Free Concert, and buried in an unmarked plot, “lot, 63, grave C,” which gives the film its title. While co-directing his documentary, The Weather Underground, Harris heard and read over and over again how Meredith’s death signaled the end of the 60s, the end of hippie, the end of the Woodstock nation, etc, but realized that he never knew anything about, nor had he even seen a photograph of Hunter, whose death was supposedly this pivotal generational loss of innocence event.

It’s interesting to note how time often sands off the finer details of an event like Altamont (even as there is a visual document of the exact moment Meredith was killed in Gimme Shelter, the classic documentary by David and Albert Maysles). Normally, as the story is told, the Hells Angels were hired on the advice of the Grateful Dead for “security,” something denied by Angels leader Sonny Barger (who said they were told that if they kept people from crawling on the low stage area, they could drink free beer all day) as well as the Stones themselves. Still, some 40 years later, it’s generally “remembered” that the Hells Angeles were the ones causing all the problems—not that they were innocent, just ask the Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin, who was knocked unconscious by one—but the not-so insignificant detail that Meredith was brandishing a double-barreled gun tends to be conveniently forgotten by contemporary writers, as if Hunter (who was also on speed at the time) was somehow an “innocent.” caught up in drunken, drugged up biker violence This clearly wasn’t the case.

I’ve even read accounts that said Hunter was targeted by the Angels for having a blonde, white girlfriend, which even if it’s true—and I have no trouble imaging that—still doesn’t excuse the fact that the guy pulled out a big fucking gun and rushed towards the stage! (The jury must have agreed, Alan Passaro, the Angel who was arrested and charged with murder for Meredith’s death, was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense when the jury viewed the Maysles’ footage. Passaro was found dead in 1985 with $10,000 in his pockets).

One final, not exactly “fun” factoid considering the matter at hand, but here goes anyway: George Lucas was one of the cameramen at Altamont. His camera jammed early on, so none of his footage could be used in Gimme Shelter, but how fascinating he was present, eh?

Postscript: As a result of Sam Green’s short, a headstone was purchased for the grave of Meredith Hunter.

Thank you Dalton Jones!

Posted by Richard Metzger
05:14 pm