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The importance of the poetic instinct
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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I've seen so many films where the reviews are great but there's some- something missing and that's, especially in documentary, the lack of a sensitive poetic eye behind the lens of a camera. The cameraman could be a perfectly well trained person technically who is able to capture and set up lights properly, to hold the camera steady, to compose the shot well, y'know? But if- if the cameraman doesn't have that poetic instinct then nothing very artistic or poetic or, or profound is going to come out of it. And so many of these technically perfect films- and Hollywood is particularly guilty of this sort of thing because the prime thing that they're looking for when they make a film, apparently, is that the film have high production value. So they're willing to spend $100, $110, $120 million dollars for a film. I mean, a documentary filmmaker could make something far more, far more from the heart for as little as $50,000- $500,000. You know? I don't- I don't want to emphasize the $50,000 because I'm always looking for the 500 but it can be done for very little money because it's not the high production value, the famous person, the crowds of people, the music that has to be paid for at an enormous expense. I remember when my brother and I were early on in our, in our work but we still had something of a reputation already, a man came to visit us- Martin Scorsese- he had just graduated from film school and he wanted to earn something of this new art for him. And almost upon arrival he began to be- suddenly got very intense and he said- I can make a feature film for $13,000. I know where I can get short ends and I know that- Well, I related that story to him many, many years later when I began to make a film of him making another film. He'd already gotten a great reputation for making some very good films. And he was about to make a film with a $100 million budget- was it "The Gangs of New York"- and we were going to make a film, as we did, a film of him making that film. So on that first day on meeting up with him and having- some 30 ago- having gone by- I jokingly reminded him of that scene where he quite furiously insists that he could make a film for $13,000 and we both got a laugh out of it. But if anything can be said about how "The Gangs of New York" might have been a better film, I think that so much of his talent was lost because of the demand that there be big crowd scenes and that he fulfil the obligation of something, making something with a high production value.

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: Rebekah Maysles Sara Maysles Tamara Tracz

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.

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.

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: The Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese, David Maysles

Duration: 4 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010