Albert Maysles, one-half of the filmmaking team known as the Maysles brothers, has died at the age of 88. With his brother David, Maysles became particularly well-known for directing Grey Gardens, a 1976 documentary about the lives of two of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s relatives, living in a squalid mansion.
Grey Gardens has become a camp classic for “Little Edie,” Onassis’s first cousin, and her idiosyncratic speech patterns and fashions. But the film is, perhaps like all great camp, touched by real darkness; there’s a sense of palpable terror in the socialites’ withdrawal from the world. Before Gardens was Gimme Shelter, the 1970 concert documentary (directed with Charlotte Zwerin) that went far beyond valorizing the Rolling Stones. It, more than perhaps any other document, conveyed the apocalyptic mood of the early 1970s through its footage of the Altamont disaster. Salesman, the duo’s look at the lives of traveling Bible vendors, pursued an interest in the lives of these men to a painful place as raw, in its way, as Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
In recent years, after David Maysles’s 1987 death, Albert had stayed productive; his latest documentary, Iris, about the nonagenarian style icon Iris Apfel, played at the New York Film Festival last fall. He will be remembered for his willingness to take subjects farther than was comfortable, to, through sheer observation with no fripperies, deliver discomfiting, frank dispatches from various corners of the American experience.