5 Films About Christo and Jeanne-Claude - A Maysles Films Production


I want to consider how four celebrity portraits made by Maysles Films after the departure of Albert and David from Drew Associates transcend Albert’s prescriptive approach: the feature length film Gimme Shelter (1970) and the shorts Meet Marlon Brando (1966), With Love From Truman (1966) and What’s Happening!. Albert acted as cameraman on these films, David as sound man and supervising editor and long term collaborator Charlotte Zwerin was editor on all except What’s Happening!. A close analysis of the films reveals a reality far removed from the purist ideal of long takes, minimal editing and adherence to a chronological presentation of events. I will begin by briefly summarising their genesis and structure. I will then detail how these films appraise the media, how they treat performance and direct address and, finally, the impact of the passage of time on their reception today, almost 50 years later.

Albert Maysles was the real deal. There was no artifice to him, no pretense. He was a kind soul who treated you like he had known you all his life the first time he met you. Above everything else, Albert cared about people. You could feel that in every frame of every film he ever made. When I was in film school, I couldn’t find examples of the kinds of films that I wanted to make. I started to wonder if I really had a place and a voice in the world of film. And then I found the work of Albert and David Maysles and my whole world changed. I knew that my gut instincts were right, that there was a way to make films about people in a way that felt genuine and not overdone. Albert taught me that it was okay to care deeply about the people you filmed and that you could tell a good story without relying on tricks and extras. I worked with Albert as an intern at Maysles Films in Harlem, New York for about a year. It was an absolute dream come true. He offered incredible advice and great hugs. He introduced me to honey on toast and showed me that if you love what you do, it doesn’t have to feel like work. Imagine watching his films, writing papers about him and actually getting to work beside him. When you meet someone like him, who you’ve admired from afar, meeting them in person turns out to be even more awesome than you could ever have imagined. It really can change your life. And it certainly changed mine. I had the courage to be the filmmaker I wanted to be because of Albert. We have lost one of the truly great ones.


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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. yells one worker, and " 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.