SilverNotes: Spotlight on Albert Maysles

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Every year Silverdocs invites a famed filmmaker to share their views on the craft of documentary filmmaking; this year’s featured filmmaker at the Charles Guggenheim Symposium is Albert Maysles, who, along with his brother David, is one of the most important names in the “direct cinema” movement. Direct cinema is a stylistic movement in which the filmmaker tries to use the camera to show the world as it really is instead of how it is thought of.

Tuesday afternoon saw the first in a series of Maysle-related screenings: Several of his early shorts were screened before a packed house. As Silverdocs’ artistic director Sky Sitney pointed out, it’s “extremely rare to see some of the short work” of Mr. Maysles, especially on the big screen. Arranged chronologically, the shorts gave an abbreviated sense of his movement from a more traditional documentarian into the direct cinema.

The first short in the program, “Psychiatry in Russia,” featured heavy use of voiceover and cheery music. Contrast that to the second and third shorts, “Closeup on Russia” and “Anastasia.” The first is three minutes and silent, consisting solely of Russian people in various real-life poses; the second is a quick look at an American ballerina in the Bolshoi. Though it has sound, it skips the voiceover in an effort to give a truer glimpse into the young woman’s life. The centerpiece to the first short program was “IBM: A Self-Portrait.” While a voiceover does narrate the proceedings, Maysles skips the chance to offer a neat summation of the company in favor of allowing its incredibly diverse, complex nature to shine through.

Though the first Maysle short program won’t run again, a second selection featuring shorts on Orson Welles and Marlon Brando runs Wednesday at 12:15.

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