Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Albert Maysles: Photographs and Cinemagraphs, at the Steven Kasher Gallery

Albert Maysles, along with his late brother David, is one of the great pioneers in documentary filmmaking. Their most famous works include the groundbreaking Salesman (1968), the immortal Rolling Stones movie Gimme Shelter (1970) and the cult classic Grey Gardens (1976). Albert Maysles’ latest documentary, The Gates, chronicling the notorious Christo installation in Central Park two years ago, premieres on HBO this coming February 26. The shots on display here, from the just-published A Maysles Scrapbook: Photographs/Cinemagraphs/Documents fill four walls of the gallery, beginning with over two dozen from the Soviet bloc in 1955. In one black-and-white photo, Albert Maysles casually leans against the bumper of an old World War II surplus truck somewhere in Czechoslovakia, beer in hand, as the locals have just offered him as much as he can drink and as much gas as his scooter will hold. It’s an indelible moment, and sadly, unlike the vast majority of what’s on display here, it’s not for sale.

Other black-and-white shots from the Maysles’ trip behind the Iron Curtain that year include several of inmates at a mental institution, including one particularly scary character posing up against his hospital’s marble steps. Others are alternately troubling and lighthearted: a series depicts weary, clearly out-of-sorts travelers in the Moscow airport, including a family sleeping huddled together, as well as some amusingly sarcastic portrayals of Soviet-era women’s fashions, or what posed for fashion in a society that denied its citizens the right to express any esthetic sensibility that could conceivably be considered individualistic.

The stars of this show occupy the final wall, several large color montages from Grey Gardens. Popular in the gay community because of its camp factor, it’s actually a harrowing look at the effects of mental illness, tracing the twisted, symbiotic relationship between the aging, reclusive septuagenarian Kennedy clan member “Big” Edith Beale and her equally crazy wannabe-chanteuse daughter, fiftysomething “Little Edie” Beale over the course of several months in the duo’s rotting, rodent-infested Long Island mansion. Grey Gardens (which was adapted into a popular musical last year) is an incredibly funny movie, but the humor is completely unintentional, as far as its subjects are concerned. “Al Maysles is a great artist. He’s also a great photographer. He is also of Russian descent. My best friends were all Russian, but they were royalty,” Little Edie is quoted as saying, which speaks volumes.

Several of the most classic scenes from the film are here: a series of six shots of Little Edie cavorting with an American flag, as well as larger shots showing her doing sit-ups in her bathing suit on the decaying back porch, posing in the dunes, perusing an astrology book through a magnifying glass, demonstrating how to wear pantyhose underneath a dress and reclining on a bed while gazing at herself in a mirror with considerable trepidation. What may be the film’s most immortal scene is included here, where Big Edie, sitting bloblike and practically falling out of her dingy green dress, reprimands Little Edie to stop her incessant singing, threatening to leave the room and go hang out with the cats instead. The show’s scariest moment is the final shot, a black-and-white photo of Little Edie posed on the porch in a short skirt, dark scarf around her waist, pulled up to show her thigh. But there’s no seduction here. The frightened bewilderment on her face stops just short of complete self-awareness: only a crazy person would let someone take a picture like that. And as you leave the gallery, thinking you’re seen it all, there’s another black-and-white shot just to the left of the elevator, this time showing a smiling Little Edie shooting with Albert Maysles’ camera. This is a must-see exhibit whether you are a fan of the Maysles’ work or not yet a convert. The show runs through March 15 at the Steven Kasher Gallery, 521 W 23rd St. just west of 10th Ave., second floor, 11 AM – 6 PM Tues-Sat.

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February 21, 2008 Posted by | Art, Film, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment