Recently, at the just-completed St. Louis International Film Festival, Albert Maysles was honored with a lifetime achievement award. The presentation involved on-stage interviews with Maysles and showings of clips from his various documentaries, and a screening of a rough cut of his upcoming documentary on the Christo and Jeanne-Claude project "The Gates". Since this is Daily Kos, just to keep "on topic", Maysles had some "politically related" comments from on subjects like Michael Moore and Hezbollah, among others. While none of this is strictly "new", it was new to me, hence this diary. More below the flip....
But first, disclaimer: I'm working from memory, since I didn't expect to be in a situation where I'd want to take notes. So I won't be getting the exact words right. With that said, on the heavier side of things:
- Maysles acknowledges that he's of the same overall stripe politically as Michael Moore, and expresses his admiration for MM's willingness to take on Bushco in his films. But his criticism of MM is that Moore does not show empathy with the subjects that he films, as a general rule. Maysles, by contrast, says that he likes to empathize with this subjects completely whom he films. (I would counter that Lila Lipscomb from Fahrenheit 9/11 is a counter-argument, for one, but from his POV, she might be the exception that proves the rule.) He did attribute a quote to Moore to the effect that "I don't make my subjects look bad; they do that on their own", but Maysles is, shall we say, less confrontational on that point.
- In sort of a "good old days" mode, he wonders if current events might have been different if the kind of film and documentary work that was going on in the 1960's was going on now, i.e. would we even have launched "Mess-o-potamia"? (Actually, given Dumbya's and WHIG's sociopathic bent, probably.) He puts some blame on the MSM (CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS) for not using film from "outsiders" to inform people about the world. He even said at one point that he was in North Korea 10 years ago and offered to share his work with CNN. CNN refused, saying essentially "we don't use footage by outsiders".
- One of his documentary projects will deal with the infamous blood libel about Jews and Passover. Michael Musto mentioned this in passing in this Village Voice article. Maysles also mentioned that Hezbollah broadcast a movie that uses this blood libel in the story on one of of their networks. I found this blog entry from The Guardian's blog that discusses this TV-series, as it actually was (rather than a movie).
Now, on the much lighter side:
- Maysles mentioned that Martin Scorsese had asked him to work on Scorsese's documentary project on The Rolling Stones (reported in The Guardian here, for example). This makes an interesting closing of the circle, because of course Maysles filmed his own (and notorious, because of what happened at the Altamont concert) Rolling Stones documentary, Gimme Shelter. A clip from Gimme Shelter was featured among the selections.
- He also mentioned another long-standing project, to make a documentary about ordinary people that he meets on trains (an older article about it here). The fact that this prior link is from 2000 gives some sense of how long this project has been lingering. However, Maysles said that through this recent work with Scorsese, he made some financial contacts and may just be able to secure the funding that needs to realize that "trains" project.
He whetted the appetite with one story. He met one woman on a train bound towards Philadelphia and she told him her tale. The woman's parents had divorced when she was 3, and she ended up in her father's custody. Her father made it a point that she would never see her mother again, and this was so for many years. Now, though, she was on that train to meet her mother for the first time since her parent's divorce.
Besides Gimme Shelter, excerpts were shown from Psychiatry in Russia, footage shot in Hungary and Moscow in the 1950's, Primary, What's Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A., Meet Marlon Brando, Salesman, With Love from Truman (formerly A Visit with Truman Capote, Grey Gardens, Running Fence, Muhammad and Larry, Ozawa, and LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton.
The heart of the evening was, of course, the work-in-progress documentary on The Gates. This project actually dates back to the 1970's, and Maysles and his co-filmmaker Antonio Ferrera have incorporated pre-digital era footage from the 1970's into this film, with Christo and Jeanne-Claude tramping the pavement to talk to city officials and higher-ups about the project. Kind of like with the "Up" films, it's then interesting to see the footage of the artists and their lawyer advocate for the project 25 years apart.
Because Maysles has worked with Christo and Jeanne-Claude several times before, he's clearly sympathetic to them and "on their side". The dissenters about The Gates come off as a touch shrill, interesting in light of what he said about Michael Moore, perhaps. But at least he gives the opponents their say, and their comments raise food for thought.
From seeing all the construction materials to be used, I couldn't help wondering that all that material could be used for a building or shelter, although given the deflating housing bubble, maybe it was a better use of construction materials. One of the dissenters ("D") even said to an interviewer ("I") for the film (again, loose paraphrase):
D: "If I s--t in your frontyard and I say it's beautiful, that doesn't mean that it is."
I: "So you're saying The Gates is equivalent to s--ting in the frontyard."
D (after long pause): "Yeah."
To fund this project, Christo and Jeanne-Claude raised the money themselves, with no government backing, by selling their own works. In fact, at one point, Maysles and Ferrera include a clip from The McLaughlin Group, where John McLaughlin in his typically pompous, bombastic way expresses grudging admiration for their "capitalist spirit", while sneering at the concept as you would expect that he would.
The rough cut ends with the unfurling of the bright orange banners (whose color seems to match Jeanne-Claude's hair) on the official first day, 2/12/05 (at least I think it opened on schedule), but not before one last minute panic to try to get security the night before. The footage from the opening day conveys great high spirits at the enterprise, with Christo and Jeanne-Claude getting cheers from the assembled throng. Shots of people calling their friends on their cell phones to tell them "you've got to come down here and see this" punctuate the atmosphere.
The aftermath of the exhibit is yet to be shown, the taking down of the gates and final reactions. The current edit is about 80 minutes, and there's no hint as to when the final film will appear. So a long evening in the cinema, 3+ hours, but worth it to see a filmmaking legend in person and some of his work.