By Leonard Klady

Leonard Klady Remembers Albert Maysles

Certainly when I was a young man no one shaped my attitude about film and filmmaking more than Albert Maysles. This was largely because of an internship at Maysles Films and an ongoing friendship that continued for decades.

Al, his brother David and Charlotte Zwerin had a funky office space not far from Times Square and Broadway. I had ambitions and initially was drawn to film editing but received an education in all aspects of putting a film together. It was a nurturing environment; a lab in which problems were addressed, analyzed and resolved without a lot of fuss or bother.

Al made his own cameras. They were lightweight, perfectly balanced to sit on his shoulder without too much undue weight and outfitted with an “O” ring that he held and allowed him to easily turn in whatever direction the story turned. It was the sort of innovative and practical application they thrived on (David was similarly progressive in sound recording) and led to completely re-inventing the documentary format as we knew it.

What he conveyed was something very simple and essential. Be certain that your subject is strong enough to sustain someone’s interest. Do not make a feature film if the material is only compelling for 17 minutes.

I remember calling him several years later and he mentioned that Lee Radziwill had contacted him about doing a documentary on her and sister Jackie. It was a work for hire and Radizwell had provided a check list of a couple of dozen points that encompassed organizations, people of interest, family and the like.

Toward the end of the list were a couple of eccentric relatives that lived in the Hamptons. Coincidently he and David had to go out there the following weekend and decided to drop in on the Bouviers aunt and cousin, the Beales. They lived in a rundown estate and he said they were unique andunexpected. When he and David drove away he said they just looked at each other and said, “That’s the movie.”

He also said that Lee Radziwill was going to be very pissed with just a hint of a smile. I never heard him grumble about passing on a big commission and, of course, what became Grey Gardens likely was more enduring than another profile on Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and her sister.

On another occasion I called him and was told he was off with David shooting Grand Funk. The two were nuts about trains and I jumped to the wrong conclusion that they’d finally got a bead on how to do a document on the subject. When we talked the following Monday he just shrugged and mumbled something about endless requests to shoot rock groups post-Gimme Shelter and, in this case, Grand Funk Railway of We’re an American Band renown. But his final film, the forthcoming In Transit, may finally have fulfilled that dream project.

I also brought Al in to do workshops with young filmmakers and I’ll never forget one occasion when we were watching a film by another resource documentarian Mike Scott. The film was Whistling Smith, a portrait of a veteran beat cop in Vancouver’s drug and prostitution center that had been Oscar nominated in 1975. At one point Al leaned in and asked “are Canada’s blue laws different from the U.S.?” I didn’t know but it was obvious he was reacting to sections that had women and men with bars superimposed across their eyes.

When Mike got up after the screening to talk about the film and take questions Al asked about the “bars” and Mike said that he hadn’t bothered with clearances as he assumed no one would sign a waiver. Al, who was unquestionably unflappable, was about as agitated as I had ever seen him. “Are you crazy,” he started. “People want to tell their story; you wouldn’t have had any problem getting them to agree to be seen.” He paused and put in the final nail, “I think you’re more interested in making fiction films.”

Mike was surprisingly unfazed and replied, “you’re probably right.”

Al had an adroit way of getting right to the truth. He was also warm, non-judgmental and inquisitive without ever being intrusive. He was the fly on the wall that you wouldn’t notice or assume was watching back. But oh what he saw and the insights he provided. It’s a debt that cannot be repaid.



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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon