BY SARAH GINSBURG
The Maysles championed the idea of flow. Their method was almost spiritual; not all that different from practicing meditation. Reaching clarity or truth doesn't come without distractions, which in the mind of Albert Maysles, are those details that catch the eye in the middle of a crucial moment, "It seems a paradox, but you gain by not sacrificing the film to what I would call 'Selfish Beauty.'" It takes some experimenting and adjusting to both the mind and the instruments before finally coming to an unexpected combination that simply works.
Al, along with other Direct Cinema pioneers of the sixties, frankensteined his sizable, bulky camera to perfectly balance on his shoulder. This balancing act freed his hands so that he was able to make a smooth change of focus or aperture, but more importantly freed his eye so that it was no longer prisoner to the viewfinder. Al could now do what he cared about most: establish a trusting relationship with the subject.
Double-system sync sound was another key component in the Direct Cinema operation. The camera and audio recorder now ran independently with no connecting cable; like snipping the umbilical cord between a mother and child.
And off they went; David would hold the mic down low and turn his head the other way when recording as Al…well, he says it best himself, "It’s not ‘fly-on-the-wall.’ You have to establish a relationship with the people you’re filming. It doesn’t have to take hours or days. You can establish that relationship almost in a flash, sort of love at first sight, if you will. There’s something in your eyes, whether its mine or Ricky’s or whoever, that the subject picks up on as a way of either trusting or distrusting you, and if your eyes show an attitude of openness and respect and confidence, the subject picks up on that and says, ‘Let’s go.’ In this fashion, with this equation of equipment, the Maysles Brothers gave us Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter (1970), Grey Gardens (1975) and countless other films and collaborations throughout their entire lives.