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Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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At a Glance
This collection is arranged in five series.
Correspondence, memoranada, agreements, notes, contracts, posters, clippings, financial files covering the entire career of the Maysles brothers.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
This collection has no restrictions.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Albert and David Maysles Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Finding aid published ptl 12/22/2016.
2016-12-21 File created.
2017-03-30 Archived Website series added by Jane Gorjevsky
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
Albert Maysles (1926-2015) and his brother David (1932-1987) were groundbreaking non-fiction filmmakers. Inspired by the French "ciné́ma vérité", they created "direct cinema": films in which the action unfolds naturally, without narration or intrusive artifice. The visceral impact of this form of cimema had a great influence on subsequent documentary filmmaking. Their best-known films include "Salesman" (1969)"Gimme Shelter" (1970) and "Grey Gardens" (1976).
Born in Boston to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Albert received his B.A. at Syracuse and his M.A. at Boston University, where he taught Psychology for three years. In 1955, Albert travelled to Russia and filmed patients at several mental hospitals. The result of this trip was his first documentary: "Psychiatry in Russia". In 1957, Albert and David made a motorcycle journey from Munich to Moscow. This trip resulted in their first collaborative effort"Youth in Poland", about a student revolt in Warsaw. They managed to sell the film to NBC.
The brothers worked with unobtrusive film and sound equipment: Albert was the cinematographer and David recorded the sound. By simply following the actions of their subjects they were able to get very close to reality in their art.
As a trained psychologist, Albert had a capacity to understand the various dynamics at play in any given situation. The brothers believed that the film tells its own story; and by using a direct style of filming the viewer has a feeling that they are actually there, watching events unfold. Albert understood that it was his artistic sensibility that shaped and informed the viewer's understanding of the subject he was filming.
In 1962, the brothers established Maysles Films. Since their documentaries did not generate much revenue, they made money by making television commercials for large corporations like IBM and Merrill Lynch.
The brother filmed many artist and musicians: the Beatles; the Rolling Stones; Marlon Brando; Truman Capote; Christo and Jeanne-Claude; Vladimir Horowitz; Seiji Ozawa; and Iris Apfel.
After David passed away in 1987, Albert continued to make documentaries on a variety of subjects. Albert's last released film was "The Love We Make" (2011), about Paul McCartney's 2001 appearance at the Concert for New York following the attacks on the World Trade Center. "Iris", Albert Maysles' final completed film was about Iris Apfel the 93-year-old fashion icon and "In Transit", Maysles' film about riders on Amtrak's Empire Builder, were released posthumously in 2015.
In 2006, Albert founded the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem. The Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films that inspire dialogue and action. He died at his home in Manhattan on March 5, 2015, aged 88.