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Albert Maysles Looks Back Half A Century When He Filmed The Beatles Invasion

Maysles, one of America’s best known independent filmmakers of the sixties,  spent a week with the then largely unknown pop group on their first US tour.

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2011 Cinema Eye Honors

Albert Maysles / Getty

Even though it was fifty years ago, Albert Maysles, who with his late brother David were rated as being one of the most talented and in demand documentary camera teams of their time, recalls how he received a call out of the  blue from a UK Television station  that he had never heard off, asking him if he would be available to make a documentary film of a pop group that he had never heard of. Not only that, but they would be arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in just  two hours time.

The date was  the 7th of February 1964, the television channel was Granada, based in the North West of England and the pop group were the Beatles. And the rest, as they say, is history.

When Albert, who handled the filming and David, who took care of the sound, arrived at JFK, they were greeted by the sights and sounds that they had rarely  experienced before, but were to experience for the next seven days, and many more times during their career. The combined  sound of frenzy and joy that only thousands of teenage pop fans can make.

The Maysles brothers were unaware that they were capturing a phenomena that America had never experienced in the past, when  John, Paul, George and Ringo first  stepped off their  plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Feb. 7, 1964. Even the Beatles, who were already the subject of considerable adulation in the UK, which the press had already stuck with the tag of Beatlemania, had no idea that they would be changing the face of pop music  history in the United States as well.

Albert Maysles, now 88 years old, and behind a  total of 41 films shot over the years, including the award winning documentary on  the Rolling Stones film Gimme Shelter, recalls the scenario at JFK that crisp winter morning and how it changed his life.

“It was  just amazing, ” Maysles looked back  “It’s the experience all over again, every time I see it. I mean, it’s wonderful. That’s why I make movies.”

And from the moment that they touched American soil during that momentous first tour, the Maysles brothers barely left the Beatles side for the entire emotion filled, action packed week of their tour, which was eventually released as the brother’s  first documentary entitled  “What’s Happening: The Beatles’ first U.S. Visit.”

The only exception was when the Beatles made their debut on American television on the Ed Sullivan show in front of a TV audience of 73 million, close to  40 percent of the entire U.S. population. The Maysles were not allowed to shoot film in the studio so they invited  themselves into the home of a typical New York family  and filmed them and their reactions when the Beatles made their famous performance.

Albert and David Maysles were to form a special working relationship with “ Fab Four” filming them a number of times while they were still together, and later with John and Paul as they followed their solo careers.

The_Beatels 2


Albert Maysles  did not  originally plan to make a career as a filmmaker, having graduated with a  Master of Arts degree from Boston University, before going on to teach psychology for a number of  years. It was only while on a trip to Russia that he was given an assignment from  CBS to film a  documentary on the less than cheery subject of  Psychiatry in Russia that Maysles’ decided to make the career move.

The Maysles brothers  worked together for more than forty years till David passed away in 1987, after which Albert continued to make films on his own for a few years after, and is reported to be currently working on an autobiographical documentary of his interesting and varied life behind the camera.


In 2005 Albert Maysles celebrated the founding of  the Maysles Documentary Center, a nonprofit organization which is dedicated to the exhibition and production of documentary films.

Albert a patron of Shooting People, a filmmakers’ community, has also been a recipient of the  Sundance Film Festival  Cinematography Award for Documentaries in 2001 for his film Lalee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton as well as the DuPont Columbia Gold Baton Award for the same film.



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