Albert Maysles, an acclaimed filmmaker who made the popular 1975 documentary "Grey Gardens," about Jacqueline Kennedy Ossasis' eccentric East Hampton relatives, has died. He was 88.
With his filmmaker brother David, who died in 1987, Maysles helped pioneer feature-length nonfiction movies that used lightweight, hand-held cameras to spontaneously record the lives of both the famous and the unexamined. Stacey Farrar, the marketing director of Maysles Films, his production company, said the filmmaker died at his home in Manhattan on Thursday.
The Maysles Brothers -- as many referred to them -- chose subjects as ordinary as the struggles of Bible salesmen and as glamorous as Marlon Brando, Orson Welles and The Beatles for their documentaries. Their 1970 film "Gimme Shelter," about the Rolling Stones' Altamont Speedway concert on Dec. 6, 1969, captured on film the killing of a fan and the darkening of the hippie dream for an Age of Aquarius.
But it was "Grey Gardens," which told the stories of Kennedy Onassis' colorful aunt Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, "Little Edie," that became Maysles' most enduring work. The documentary, which followed the two women who resided in a squalid East Hampton mansion, became a cult classic that also inspired a Tony-winning 2006 Broadway musical, and a 2009 HBO dramatization starred Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. In celebration of the movie's 40th anniversary, it is being screened through Thursday at the Film Forum in Manhattan.
Maysles remained active right up to his death. "Iris," his documentary on fashion icon Iris Apfel, is scheduled to be released in April. On Thursday, the Tribeca Film Festival announced that "In Transit," a documentary he co-directed about the longest train route in the United States, will premiere at this year's festival.
Born in Boston to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Maysles served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946, studied at Syracuse and Boston University and taught psychology for three years before turning to film. His first foray into motion pictures was a 16-mm documentary he made in 1955 while visiting mental hospitals in the Soviet Union.
The Maysles worked without scripts, sets or lighting. The resulting works had no narration, no filmed interviews and gave audiences a fly-on-the-wall feeling.
After his brother's death, Maysles continued to work with various collaborators on such films as "Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002.
He also continued a longtime working relationship with artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, whose process for creating monumental environmental art the Maysles documented in several films beginning in the 1970s.