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Monday, March 09, 2015

Albert Maysles, Psychiatry in Russia (1955)

surrounded by ladies
Albert Maysles during the shooting
(Dangerous Minds)
no copyright infringement intended

A nice photo made in 1955, during the shooting of Psychiatry in Russia. For all his life Albert Maysles enjoyed enormously to be surrounded by ladies, as many as it could be. He was a very nice person who always generated genuine sympathy. That was the way I met him sometime in the 2000s, a joyful octogenarian flooded by feminine presence, young documentarians from New York surrounding their beloved patriarch. In the photo above, shot in 1955 in Moscow, a young Albert Maysles appears in the middle of a bouquet of Soviet ladies, doctors, patients, medical staff.

It was his first movie. Albert Maysles was twenty-eight or twenty-nine. He had an MA in psychology from Boston University where he was teaching. Sometime by 1954 he made a professional trip in the Soviet Union, to visit psychiatry institutions there and set scientific contacts. The following year he came back with a handheld camera, starting a long cinematic career.

Psychiatry in Russia is a thirteen minute documentary. Albert Maysles is the orchestra-man: director, cameraman, editor, narrator. The camera follows the eyes of the filmmaker and borrows his genuineness and empathy. It's a window of freshness, in a Cold War era dominated by deep mistrust and hysterical propaganda. An American in Russia, and the lack of arrogance is total! No patronizing, nothing of the kind. Just a human being among other human beings.The camera is just following people, doctors and medical assistants and patients, normal people with normal wishes. Ironically, the psychiatric environment makes the demonstration of normalcy. A statue of the Generalissimo seen in the background for just a second, as a touch of chiaroscuro: normalcy was having its limits, like always.

(Albert and David Maysles)



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