Salesman by Albert Maysles
The special guest at this year's Gimme Some Truth, Winnipeg's own four-day documentary forum, is American filmmaker Albert Maysles.
The 84-year-old Maysles (Salesman, Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens) isn't a household name, probably because he did much of his seminal work in the 1960s and '70s, before showmen like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock --neither of whom can hold a candle to Maysles, by the way--got docs into the multiplex. But his non-fiction feature films, on which he worked collaboratively with his brother David and others, are landmarks in direct cinema, the North American version of cinéma vérité. Having Maysles in town is a really big deal--and a testament to what this tenacious film forum has achieved in its four short years.
Along with master classes, panel discussions and workshops, Gimme Some Truth will be offering daily screenings, including a collection of classic Quebec docs, features from current world cinema, an examination of community-based filmmaking (with work by local talents Jim Agapito and Ervin Chartrand), and a Franco-Manitoban series that intercuts shorts by contemporary Francophones with some of the province's first cinematic images, shot by Abbé Léon Rivard in the early 20th century.
The docu-fest kicks off with Maysles introducing Grey Gardens, an enduringly strange 1976 film that centres on Edie Beale, aunt to Jackie Onassis, and her daughter Little Edie, who live in a decaying East Hampton house, their patrician accents contrasting with the feline-infested squalor of their surroundings. As the aging Big Edie ponders her singing comeback and Little Edie models what she calls her "costumes"-- improvised and strangely stylish jumbles of sweaters, scarves, turbans and pins--we get a view into a quarrelsome, claustrophobic, inescapable mother-daughter relationship.
While this is a close-up look at two reclusive, occasionally delusional women, the film never descends into the exploitational excesses of contemporary reality TV. Instead, the filmmakers give the Beales the room and respect they need to emerge in all their magnificent oddness.
Grey Gardens has become a cult favourite, inspiring an HBO movie (starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore), a musical, a Rufus Wainwright song and a Harper's Bazaar fashion shoot, but the lesser-known Salesman (1968) is even more unforgettable. The Maysles brothers follow four door-to-door bible salesmen who target guilt-ridden blue-collar Catholics.
As the men sell salvation on the instalment plan in a heartrending, sometimes hilarious mix of practiced patter and flopsweat desperation, and as one of the salesmen slowly turns into Willy Loman right before our eyes, the film becomes a shattering exposé of the American Dream. It's like Glengarry Glen Ross, except real.
Alison Gillmor, CBC Reviewer
Stay tuned to the SCENE for a behind-the-scenes view from film maker Jim Agapito.