With great sadness, I read my sister's email last week that Al Maysles has died. It's as if a spiritual father has left the cinema. Darker because of the sudden loss, but assured it will re-illuminate every time one of his powerful documentaries is shown.
I don't make movies like Al. I'm too busy working out my neurotic wounds to be a fly on the wall, but I adore his films. Who doesn't? They are smart, funny and like Al, very sensitive. I didn't know his brother and partner David, but I admired their ability to work so well with each in such ground breaking films as Salesman and Gimme Shelter.
I remember being in the Hamptons in the early '70s to hear painter Larry Rivers play sax in a small jazz club. And who was in the small audience but Edith Beale, the weird cousin of Jackie O, sitting quietly with that iconic scarf around her head. Grey Gardens had breathed fresh life into Edith and her mother, showing the world what is rarely seen, the underbelly hidden beneath the illusion of family, money and status.
When I went to see Al in the '90s with a rough cut of my opus, Deep in The Deal, he was anything but flattering. This film, which featured my partner running around arguing with interviewees and me playing good cop to his bad, was nothing like a Maysles' picture. Clearly, Al didn't get what we were trying to do, but was so sweet in his critique. I am only sorry that now as I'm in post- post- post production, he will not get a chance to see the finished film.
One of my favorite moments with Al was the day I went shooting The Gates in Central Park. It was horrid weather, but I felt compelled to try and capture the feeling of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's fascinating saffron installation and the people's reactions to it. Al was making a film on The Gates and running around in a jalopy with his camera and small team. He invited me to hop on board and so we shot together for a few hours, everyone excited to see the great Al, he friendly and open, taking it all in stride. Afterwards, I was invited up to his spacious apartment in the Dakota for tea and toast, entertained by his brilliant wife Gillian. There were such good vibes in his home... his humor and sweetness permeated the space... I never wanted to leave.
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