I found out too late that I could get into AFCOOP's masterclass with legendary Albert Maysles, but alas, it was not meant to be (thanks battery power). So I wasn't going to miss seeing him do a Q&A at the screening of his landmark doc, Gimme Shelter, about the 1969 Rolling Stones' free concert at the Altamont Speedway that captured a murder by the Hell's Angels on film--an event which many say signified the end of flower-power, peace-loving barefoot 1960s (as certain aging music magazines would like you to believe anyway). Well, duh!! Captured by Maysles' keen observational skills and his philosophy to just let the camera roll without interviews, this entire "peaceful" scene was a train wreck of violence, freaky drug trips and plain stupidity. It's just a surprise that it didn't happen sooner.
The film still stands today as a mesmerizing historical document about a misunderstood overblown era and as a reminder that the Rolling Stones were hot about 40 years ago. Afterwards Maysles talked about how long it took them to get a release from the band for the film, but now they're good friends. In fact, Martin Scorsese recently invited him to bring a camera along to a Stones performance that he was filming in New York---at Mick and Keith's request. He also suggested that as a documentarian, you can't be afraid to show everything and to just let the camera roll, which is why films about Woodstock tend to be all funky and "hey man, it's all groooovy." There were deaths there too, remember.
As a documentarian, Maysles also believes that we're tyrannized by oversimplification of issues, and by filmmakers like Michael Moore who are so hellbent on getting their point across, they work to find interviews and footage that serves their original purpose. He believes in our need to see physical proof to understand the world and even wrote an unanswered letter to the New York Times asking why they wouldn't show photographs of Baghdad after the first U.S. bombing of the city. At 80, he's still working on films and encourages people to take on what he considers "documentary poetry," that abandons posed family photos for video-captured moments in our day-to-day lives.