Collaboration: Albert Maysles

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Albert Maysles’ methodology:

1. Distance oneself from a point of view.
2. Love your subjects.
3. Film events, scenes, sequences; avoid interviews, narration, a host.
4. Work with the best talent.
5. Make it experiential, film experience directly, unstaged, uncontrolled.
6.There is a connection between reality and truth. Remain faithful to both.

From: http://www.mayslesfilms.com/albertmaysles/documentary.html

Complex ethical issues inherent in the direct cinema practice

Albert Maysles came to my attention after I Googled “Deleuze intercessors” and an article by Ilona Hongisto – “I’m Ready For My Close-Up Now”: Grey Gardens and the Presentation of Self – reminded me of the intimate style of documenting that occurred in his film Grey Gardens. When I first watched Grey Gardens, some years ago, I felt depressed; the representation of mother and daughter, Edith and Edie, held together in a chaotic, dysfunctional relationship, living in a dilapidated mansion in The Hamptons, New York, pretty much isolated from the rest of humanity, save a few visits from a gardener, grocery delivery driver, Jerry (who occupied a role I’m still not sure about), and the Maysles, felt static and sad. Ilona Hongisto’s article exists to argue against the negative feedback – the filmmakers were accused of taking advantage of Edith and Edie by showing them “in an inopportune light” (Hongisto 1) – and to present an argument for the “remarkable system of presenting a self the documentary offers” (Hongisto 1).

My view of Grey Gardens didn’t change when I watched it again – I found it hard to see any kind of transformation and this was apparent at the end when a recorded telephone conversation between Edie and one of the filmmakers is played over the credits; he tells her he met a fan of Grey Gardens who watched the film 120 times and Edie states, “you take care of yourself,” as if he had said nothing. He offered her something she said she desperately wanted – recognition as a performer – and she ignored it. Throughout the film Edie states how much she wants to get away from Grey Gardens and her mother, and she blames her mother for calling her back – this is actually played out in the film: every time Edie and the filmmakers are in a different room to Edith, Edith calls out for Edie to come to her – yet Edie always returns to her mother. Edie’s actions and her words do not match. Both women play their roles in keeping the status quo and the filmmakers’ final intervention does not break through. Perhaps Edie’s stated desire of getting away, and her regret that she did not make it in show business, was conflicting with her desire to make sure her mother was looked after.  I see two people trapped and going round in circles and I see the filmmakers colluding with them.

This brings me to question the role of the filmmaker and, especially, my role as filmmaker, with my experience in coaching, which is connected with transformation, if conditions are right for it. These questions arise for me:

  • What is the nature of my interventions?
  • What is the agreement between the subject and me?
  • What permissions do I have?
  • What permissions would I like to have?
  • Where is it okay to go?

My purpose as filmmaker is to present an honest portrait of what is there; it’s also to make a film that people want to watch. I want people to be impressed by the films I make – I’d like the impressions to be long-lasting and encourage thought – new thought; different ways of thinking about things. With an agreed agenda with the subject, what do I show? By agreeing an agenda, am I colluding with the subject? Instead of colluding with someone who says, “I don’t want to go there”, isn’t my responsibility to ask what is it about that that makes them not want to go there? What are they afraid of? What might they gain by going there? What might they lose by going there?

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