He Sees Everything
Albert Maysles does not give out awards. He accepts them frequently, all those accolades for a lifetime's worth of achievement, including immortal films made with his late brother David (Gimme Shelter, Salesman, Grey Gardens) and others (Primary, LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton). But Maysles has never before lent his name, immortal among documentary filmmakers and those who watch them, to any prize. So it is no small thing that Jessica Glass, co-director of the 2001 documentary On Common Ground, receives the first Albert Maysles Award on March 20 as part of the Dallas Video Festival. It is no surprise he thinks highly of her: Maysles shot some of the footage for the movie, which reunites American and German soldiers who fought each other in Germany's Huertgen Forest in 1944. But giving Glass an award bearing his name is something Maysles takes seriously; it is not just a token shared among friends.
"This is somebody full of passion to make a documentary, and it's a specific passion," says the man who helped define the documentary, by merely pointing the camera at a subject and staying out of the way. "She's so good at it, if only for the fact a good documentary filmmaker puts himself or herself second to the subject matter or subjects. She's very good at that."
Maysles is told Glass is very much like him, the rare documentarian who remembers the film she's making is not about her. At all. He agrees, but only to a point.
"At the same time, if you're really good at it, it bears your signature," says the 69-year-old Maysles, from his offices in New York City. "So somebody can say, 'It's all about such and such, but only in the way Jessica could do it.' Because it has that signature, it doesn't mean it's any less about you. It's more so, because the thing you're shooting indicates it is a self-expression on the part of the author, but with the subject and subject matter in the foreground."
Unfortunately, Glass' film will not screen in its entirety. Instead, snippets will be screened, at Glass' request; she will also show short clips from her forthcoming documentary, the title of which she wouldn't reveal to DVF founder Bart Weiss. But audiences will be treated to a screening of Salesman, perhaps the greatest documentary ever made: Not only does it play like a work of fiction as it follows four door-to-door Bible salesmen working the East Coast, but it also reveals how fine the line between those who are exploiting and those who are being exploited.
Maysles has been working for more than five decades--he was a contemporary and colleague of such cinema verité pioneers as Robert Drew, D.A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock--but keeps on; awards are mere mile markers, not tombstones. His trip to Dallas will be brief, as he flies to Boulder from here to check out the possibility of making a film about a Buddhist rabbi, and he is awaiting response from HBO about a series he pitched about "a good, decent family" that would serve as a "wonderful role model, quite different from what we see on The Osbournes." He worries the network will not be interested in a happy family, but Maysles' intentions speak volumes about him: He's filled with nothing but compassion for the ordinary person, the smallest and most forgotten among us.
Still, he will often dive back into the bubbly world of celebrity, having made films about Marlon Brando, the Beatles, Truman Capote, Vladimir Horowitz and the Rolling Stones and the tragedy of Altamont. Not long ago he shot Britney Spears in Mexico City, the last time she appeared on a stage and the site of her alleged meltdown; the DVD doc was released in December, included in the coffee-table book Stages. Maysles says he was invited to shoot by Spears' people, who told him they wanted a document of her last onstage appearance for the near future, and he couldn't refuse. Didn't matter who she was, really, only that she was interesting--the only criterion Maysles has ever used.
"There is this feeling I reject entirely, which is there are some people who shouldn't be filmed," he says. "I don't think everybody in the world would make a film, but I wouldn't reject anybody out of hand." --Robert Wilonsky
There's more than one way to see stars outside the Academy Awards.
Just ask Joan Rivers. She says she and daughter Melissa aren't above throwing punches between punch lines to protect their turf on the red carpet at the Kodak Theatre.
Things get ugly as scores of TV crews and paparazzi jostle for limited real estate and compete for face time with the celebs. Joan and Melissa sink their manicured talons into most of the tuxed and Botoxed biggies as they sail by. But get between them and their designer-clad prey and watch out.
Team Rivers invented pre-ceremony hoopla (Melissa also writes and produces the specials). They're regulars on the awards circuit, staking out the Emmys, People's Choice Awards, Golden Globes, Grammys and Oscars for cable's E! Entertainment Television (where Live on the Red Carpet starts at 5 p.m., March 23, preceding ABC's Oscar telecast).
In a tag-team phone chat, Joan, 69, and Melissa, 35, dish which stars they'd love to snag on the shag this year--and who they'd rather see kicked under it.
Is that why the carpet is red outside the Oscars? So it doesn't show blood?
Joan: It's a war, I'm telling you.
Melissa: You protect your turf with your life.
Joan: I've punched people. Get out of here, Australia TV! You're over my line, bitch! Oh, I've still got it in me. At the Oscars, they put down little box hedges between the press and the red carpet. Last year I brought giant scissors and cut mine lower. Go to hell! I need to talk to people!
Some actors--Jodie Foster, Russell Crowe--refuse to stop for "What are you wearing?" Why?
Joan: Darling, in five years, nobody's going to want them to stop. I've been around so long I've seen it go from "Oh, get so-and-so!" to "Who wants to talk to them?" It's a short cycle.
Melissa: Some stars have rules about not stopping. It might be what's going on in their life. Or if they're incredibly dumb, their publicists don't feel it's safe for them to talk. There are a few of those.
Who works the carpet best?
Joan: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. So charming, so darling. It's 20 minutes out of their life. No big deal. Gwyneth Paltrow gets there two hours early and does every interview. I remember the first year Matt Damon and Ben Affleck came down (for Good Will Hunting). They talked to everyone. Nia Vardalos (writer and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding) is at that stage now. And I always look forward to Cher. To her, life is one big costume party.
If you want to learn how to walk a red carpet...
Melissa: Study tapes of Sharon Stone...
Joan: Watch the way she turns her whole body (toward the cameras). She's old-time movie glamorous.
Best way to get noticed on Oscar night?
Joan: Look like an ass. Who do we remember? Bjork in the swan dress. The wilder you look, the more press you'll get. The Oscars are a worldwide photo op. I don't understand why more of them don't get that. Too many get stylists and play it safe.
If you were giving Best Picture...
Joan: The Pianist. Cannot get it out of my mind.
Melissa: Chicago. Loved it.
Joan: That and Jackass! --Elaine Liner
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