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New forms of documentary: parallels in literature and music


War experiences and audio visual poetry
Albert Maysles Film-maker
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When I went into the service, not that long after that, I came down with a terrible case of bronchitis, and they put me in the, in the infirmary for, for a month it was that bad. And- but I was put in a ward with some 30 or so soldiers who had just come back from the front, wounded, and some of them in terrible pain and under traumatic stress, and so that hardly a moment went by when there wasn't somebody screaming. And, and each one of them told me their stories. So in that particular way, that month, I really got to know in a rather direct way about being under fire- just what it is that these guys went through and what I might have gone through had I gone on active duty at that time. Fortunately the war was over before I could be sent across. But that experience taught me a great deal. And then, as I, as I was saying, reading the book "All Quiet on the Western Front" that taught me something too. But you know, they- there's a scene in that book "All Quiet on the Western Front" where the hero of the film, in the last moments of the film, he's, he's in the trench under fire and, and a butterfly flies across and he jumps up to catch it and he's shot and he's killed. And, I don't know, maybe that was what made me more alert to seeing, in my neighborhood, only not so long ago the young man who does the pick up and delivery of his father's clothing- cleaning establishment. I saw him coming along the street once and he's a mentally retarded guy so he walks with a peculiar gait, but as he was walking towards me his, his hands were all in- grasping, trying to reach this, with this big wonderful smile- he's trying to get a- trying to get a butterfly. But thank God there was no sniper around in that case. And had I filmed it, I would be able to collect- add it to my collection of what I would call poetic moments. But in this case I would call it an audiovisual poem- just that 30 or 40 seconds of this man doing his best to- not to write a poem but unconsciously, without knowing it, creating one.

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: Tamara Tracz Rebekah Maysles Sara Maysles

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

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.

Tags: All Quiet on the Western Front

Duration: 3 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010