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.
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.
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.