Gimme Some Truth – Day 1

Day 1 /// Thurs, Oct. 13th, 2011

7:00 PMGrey Gardens, introduced by Albert Maysles (plays with 117 boulevard Dollard by Stéphane Oystryk) at the Winnipeg Cinematheuqe!

9:00 PM - Opening reception at the Winnipeg Free Press Cafe

Gimme Some Truth begins today at 7 PM with a screening of Grey Gardens (1976), introduced by Albert Maysles in person. A seminal documentary, Grey Gardens is a glimpse into the everyday life of a mother and daughter pair of reclusive socialites living in a dilapidated mansion, both named Edith Beale.

It is incredibly exciting that Albert Maysles will be both attending his screenings of his films this weekend (Grey Gardens, Salesman) as well as holding a Master Class for aspiring documentary filmmakers from 10 AM to 1 PM on Saturday. Maysles, alongside his late brother David Maysles, is a very important figure in documentary filmmaking and was one of the first champions of direct cinema or cinema vérité in the 60s and 70s.

The screening of Grey Gardens will be followed by an opening reception for Gimme Some Truth documentary forum at the nearby Free Press Cafe.

For more on Maysles, please check out our original Cineflyer article on him! Below I have also posted an article written in relation to Grey Gardens, the film opening the festival tonight at 7 PM at the Winnipeg Cinematheque.

-Aaron Zeghers

“In Direct Cinema we try to answer Virginia Woolf’s question that she asked in an essay of hers in 1926, and she asked “What, if left to its own devices, would cinema be?”. Well, I think left to its own devices cinema would be Direct Cinema. That is, documentary can requote reality I think more honestly and authentically, when done properly, than any other medium. If it is practiced properly, then it is more like photography than cinematography.”

-Albert Maysles in interview with Peter Tammer

“We can see two kinds of truth here. One is the raw material, which is the footage, the kind of truth that you get in literature in the diary form it’s immediate, no one has tampered with it. Then there’s another kind of truth that comes in extracting and juxtaposing the raw material into a more meaningful and coherent storytelling form, which finally can be said to be more than just raw data”

-Albert Maysles from Levin’s Documentary Explorations


From the The Criterion Collection, September 03, 2001.

Notes on Grey Gardens

In 1998, I interviewed “Little” Edie Beale, the surviving star of Grey Gardens, one of the Maysles’ numerous masterworks (Gimme Shelter, Meet Marlon Brando, and With Love From Truman are equal in technical and emotional innovation). Miss Beale, speaking by telephone from her home somewhere in Florida, said she spent her days swimming and occasionally seeing friends. She was still attiring herself in a singular manner (her self-described “costumes” are the visual corollary of her extraordinary speech), living as she had always lived: as an independent woman whose thoughts and actions were infused—not to say suffused—by the presence of her late mother, “Big” Edie Beale. Little Edie had spent most of her adult life with her mother; now she parted the warm, salty waves surrounding her Florida home alone.

In Miss Beale’s speech, one heard the Social Register that had excised the Beales from its pages long ago: long “a”s, a certain formality in addressing her interlocutor. There was also, in her voice, certain impatience with the demands of being ladylike. I recall, during the interview, being at a loss as to what I could or should ask Miss Beale. One felt—understandably—that one intimately knew her and her mother from the Maysles’ film. At any rate, Miss Beale had agreed to talk to me largely because Albert Maysles had asked her to do so; the piece was to appear sometime around the theatrical re-release of the documentary film she had starred in some twenty years before. During our talk, I asked Miss Beale several questions; my questions betrayed the awkward directness of a fan. I recall asking her if she liked women. “No!” she said emphatically. And, giggling softly, she said: “Women want the same things I want.” For Miss Beale, the world was her mother and therefore a mirror: she may not “like” other women, but she was them; other women were not distinguishable from her mother—and herself.

Such singularity of being is rare. It is also rare that it should be recorded so beautifully, and with such grace, since it is not unusual for artists to feel diminished by subjects they cannot invent, especially real life characters whose lives exceed anyone’s wildest imaginings. Odd to say, but this resentment can be especially true of documentary filmmakers, the weak ones at least, who too often compete with their subjects, insisting that their intrepid journalistic eye is the story we should be engaged by, not the people they’re “covering.” Grey Gardens is the visual evidence of Albert and David Maysles’ unique brilliance as portraitists, actively engaged by subjects who do not so much as sit for them (the Beales have too much energy, wit, and imagination to be passive subjects) as help them shape the film by exposing their emotional trajectory. That is the film’s ostensible narrative. Its haunting subtext is this: the truth is best presented through metaphor. The Beales are themselves, born into a particular class at a particular time. But they are also the selves they’ve created: a singer, a dancer, whose florid self-presentation cannot be eclipsed by hard times, bad times—so-called real life. Certainly the Maysles are interested in recording the Beales’ very real life—the ruined house crawling with cats and fleas, the paper bird in the rusty gilded cage, the mother and daughter quarrelling—but those are the film’s most superficial elements. What draws the viewer in are the stories around what we cannot see: Miss Beale lamenting the loss of a scarf. The suitors turned away. Mrs. Beale’s infatuation with a man whose minor musical talent is better remembered than heard. Money spent. The dream of New York on summer nights filled with jackhammers and the moon. Regrets and recriminations: the language of lovers, the fabric of family life. The Maysles’ interest in the ephemeral, the passing of time in a sea of leaves, tells us that masks are all we have; people would not know who they are or what to say without them. Time is cruel, but we can overcome it a bit by insisting on self-expression (at any cost, since it generally does cost something: a conventional life and the conventional wisdom that goes with it).

The Maysles’ deeply felt approach to these extraordinary women makes most other documentaries by their peers seem foolish, an embarrassment disguised as the truth. As embarrassing as asking Miss Beale impertinent questions on the telephone for journalism’s sake. What was there for her to say? The Maysles had provided her and her mother with a platform where they spoke and sang and shouted and saw so memorably and intimately, so long ago.

-Hilton Als, an American writer and theater critic who writes for The New Yorker magazine.

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~ by cineflyer on October 13, 2011.

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