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My inspiration for In Transit


Filming the funeral of the Vietnam advisor and war
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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In 1961- the adviser who was killed in ambush- the American adviser- in Vietnam. This was before the war but at a time when we were beginning to get involved in that, in that war. And so when I heard that this man's body was being sent first to New Orleans and then on to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I decided, along with another person I was associated with who would take sound, I decided to go to New Orleans in time for the arrival of the body. And so, knowing that his, the body was going to be put on the train, we got inside the baggage car of the train, where the door was still open, and started filming as the coffin was brought up and into the baggage car. And as I got that shot you could see in the distance another train with people walking through it, of course totally oblivious to this event which was the early beginnings of the, of the war. And so I filmed the journey of the body with people paying no attention to it, all of which was relevant to the story that might develop. Finally we got to Tuscaloosa and I could hear, just outside the train, the voices of the people from the funeral parlor and they were talking about how- yeah, it's just like North Korea all over again. Bodies are coming back. And then the door opened and I could see in the distance the family standing under a lamppost with a gentle amount of light coming through the fog. I later joined with them, and spent a day with them before the funeral itself, and, all the time filming. And I remember as the body was going underground I panned over to a group of young people who, oblivious to the importance of what was going on, were talking about the party that they would go to the next night. Well, having shot all that stuff, the idea was to be for me to return to Vietnam where this man had been killed and find and stay with his replacement and complete the story. All of which, had the film ever been made, perhaps would have given us, if the film got shown, given us all more information as to what might happen and perhaps would have helped to have- keep us from getting into that quagmire. Well, I mean, right now I'm thinking- my goodness, if only we knew more about what's going on there in Iraq we would get the hell out of there. And if more- if we only knew more much earlier on we never would have gotten in there. And- but we don't know that much because there's not a documentary that's telling us what's going on there. I was so disturbed when the war began in Iraq that- and it began as we remember seeing on television with the bombing of Baghdad. We remember perhaps the scenes of the dark profiles of the buildings with the flashes of light behind which told us that the city was being bombed but at no time after that, the day after or the month after that or the years after that, did we have a single daylight photograph looking down on the city to see what damage has been done. Even a photograph- let alone a film, you know, unless that- until that documentary film is made showing clearly what's happening to people being killed and wounded and so forth, we won't know what it's all about. Sometimes, sometimes somebody comes up with a book that tells it all so beautifully. There was a book written after the First World War. It was called- it was called "All Quiet on the Western Front" and I read that book to my kids and they cried a great deal, and they're not about to go easily off to war. But it's one of the few instances where the film that was made was as good as the book. And I believe that just about any book of something that's going on, if the film is being made and made very well of what's going on, right, and it's an interesting story, with- of interesting people, that the film will be an even if not a better match for it. At least, that's the kind of competitive goal that I would like to try to achieve.

Albert Maysles (1926-2015) known for his important documentaries on Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, pioneered the documentary style known as Direct Cinema. He helped create techniques still widely used in modern documentary production, as well as many of the techniques used in reality TV.

Listeners: Sara Maysles Rebekah Maysles Tamara Tracz

Sara Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is currently doing her BA in East Asian Studies at Columbia University, and working as an Archivist of the photographs and photographic material at Maysles Films Inc., Albert‚s film production company. She spent ten months out of two years working with Tibetan refugees at a center in Nepal, and continues to travel back and forth between America and Asia.

Rebekah Maysles, daughter of Albert Maysles, is an artist living between New York and Philadelphia. She has her own line of clothing, Blackberryrose, and co-runs the store Sodafine in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York, a vintage and handmade store that sells clothing, books and other products made by artists.

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Vietnam, Vietnam War, New Orleans, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Iraq, Baghdad, Iraq War, World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front

Duration: 6 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008