Albert Maysles, Russian Close-up (1957)
When Jean-Luc Godard calls you ‘the best American cameraman,’ as he did of Albert Maysles, you know you’re onto something
In 1957 Albert Maysles came back to Russia, this time together with his brother David, and they crossed the country on a scooter. The result was a 33 minute, 16 mm black and white, documentary, Russian Close-up. Unfortunately I wasn't able to find a copy to put it here. Another movie (made much later by Walter Salles) comes to my mind: Diarios de Motocicleta. I think it's a different beast. The movie of Sales has a political dimension, inevitably, you cannot talk about Che without taking sides one way or another, while the moto-diary of the Maysles brothers for sure is just Cinéma vérité. The way the world is seen by a man with the talent for getting on well with people.
The Maysles brothers were among the first documentarians to use cameras small and light enough to fit on a cameraman’s shoulder, and in their work you can see the intimate view of personal experience that this allowed them to capture. At the time, they called it ‘direct cinema’; today we think of it as ‘Cinéma vérité.’ Such a humanistic focus would understandably disdain the importance of soulless institutions and the ‘official’ view of the world, and indeed, this ethic would gain far more traction in the late 1960s and beyond.
(Albert and David Maysles)