So no ... I did not write the Gothamist interview with the Cuddle Party founders. That was my friend Rachel. But last week I did post an interview with the great documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles. I'm sure 99% of you reading this blog know who Maysles is, but in case you don't, he and his late brother David were responsible for helping to revolutionize documentary filmmaking in the late-'50s and early-'60s with the development of "Direct Cinema," and they made three of the most fascinating docs of all time in Salesman, Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens. Plus he's had a relationship with Christo and Jeanne-Claude for over 30 years that has involved his documenting most of their public arts projects (including a film about The Gates currently in post-production). The interview was set-up in part because of the "Maysles Films: Five Decades" series which gets restarted tomorrow at MoMA.
I looked forward to my conversastion with Maysles; he's probably one of the most important filmmakers I've ever spoken with in any capacity since I first interviewed anybody while at UCLA in 1991. He was very nice, although sometimes I found it difficult to get him to elaborate and converse while others he would tell long interesting stories that didn't necessarily get to my question. While transcribing the interview, I couldn't be sure if I was the smallest bit unhappy because I had not conducted a good interview or he and I just didn't connect in a way that allowed it to become as converstional (and therefore, as interesting) as I always try to make all my interviews. Ultimately, I think it edited together pretty well, but it took some work.
Meanwhile, I had no idea that my questioning him about a certain mini-controversy would actually lead to my being contacted by some of the people involved. In 2004, a filmmaker named Michael Wilson made a documentary called Michael Moore Hates America. Maysles is interviewed in the documentary -- which I have heard of but never seen, but is apparently an attempt to denounce the kind of constructed hyperbolic arguments of recent (especially political) documentary films more than being a specific attack on Michael Moore. Wilson sent me an email in which he states, "I'm very disappointed in Albert. I really made him this icon of virtue in my film."
Wilson became upset because when talking to me, Maysles indicated that the Michael Moore Hates America filmmakers had been somehow underhanded, tricking him into participating in an attack film on Moore and never getting him to sign a proper release. The specific exchange that I'm sure caught Wilson and a credited Executive Producer Brian Cartmell (who actually wrote me first) off-guard was this:
ME: You appeared in the documentary Michael Moore Hates America, but there's been some controversy both about what you said and your very presence in the film.
MAYSLES: What you don't know about that is that when they finished filming me I heard one of them say, "Michael Moore hates America," and I said, "Wait a minute. What's that all about?" I told them, "No, I'm not signing a release," and I didn't. But I consulted my lawyer, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. In a sense they had stolen some of that footage. They had misrepresented themselves, and I never would have participated in that kind of a film.
ME: So you didn't know it was an anti-Michael Moore film?
MAYSLES: I didn't know that at all.
Now I don't know (since, as I mentioned, I haven't seen the film) that me characterizing Michael Moore Hates America as an "anti-Michael Moore film" is even totally fair, but I certainly inferred that was what Maysles meant by "that kind of a film." So the day the interview goes up, I receive an email from Cartmell that includes a link (I think this plays in Quicktime) to a small piece of video which shows a slightly different situation than the one Maysles described to me.
After the email from Cartmell, I got the previously mentioned email from Wilson who was equally, if not even more, upset at the way Maysles characterized his film and essentially him and his crew. If you're curious, I've reprinted the email after the jump.
I'm not specifically taking either side. The video certainly shows a slightly different situation than what Maysles described, but the possibility of a grand misunderstanding is also more than likely. And as I haven't actually seen Michael Moore Hates America, so I can't speak to Wilson's intentions or what the film seems to really mean to say, especially whether or not it comes off as a Michael Moore-attack piece. (It is interesting to read some of the comments on IMDb which indicate that Wilson's film is no different than the films he criticizes.)
So who knows? I did want to mention the Michael Moore Hates America filmmakers' rebuttal though, and again, if you would like to see the specifics of what Wilson wrote to me, just click below to continue reading. And if you're interested in seeing Michael Moore Hates America, you can order the DVD from the film's own website or rent it from Netflix.
From: [Mike Wilson]
Subject: From Mike Wilson, regarding Albert Maysles
Date: December 17, 2005 8:42:01 AM EST
I just finished reading your interview with Albert Maysles. I was astonished at what he said about his appearance in my film Michael Moore Hates America. In the film, I tell Albert that the film is called "Michael Moore Hates America." His reaction: "I think he does."
Of course, I explained that the title wasn't a thesis, and it wasn't... most critics have agreed that the film isn't malicious in the least. The only reason that Albert is even able to say that we didn't get a written release is because I'd just finished an interview with The Daily Show, and we'd left our entire stack of releases with their intern (who was gathering signatures for both them and us, as we did some man-on-the-street stuff for the piece). So instead of hand-writing a release, we did a carefully-worded on-camera release, and Albert agreed to sign a written version later and fax it back to us. We have all of this on tape.
Well, according to Albert, he discussed the interview with his wife later that night and after she became upset with him (assuming that we were making some sort of pro-Republican political piece-- which MMHA is not) decided that he wanted to not participate. He told me this a month later when I hadn't recieved his release, and after we'd already put most of his footage in the film. He also claims to have sent a letter to this affect, but when I asked him where it was sent, Albert says he sent it to me in Dallas... Well, I've only been to Dallas once in my life, and live in Minneapolis, so clearly, I'm doubtful that such a letter was sent.
I'm very disappointed in Albert. I really made him this icon of virtue in my film. I really looked to him as someone who was honest and truthful in filmmaking and carried that with me throughout the process. In the movie, he really is one of the two most important voices about honesty in documentary filmmaking and in life. But he is lying about this situation and lying about what happened that day. He is also causing real financial damage to me and other participants in my film when he says things like this.
What Albert doesn't know is that we captured a good deal of our conversation after the interview on tape. Since my friend and producer Chris Ohlsen was such a fan of Albert's, he wanted more footage and kept the camera rolling. It's a good thing that happened, because if Albert continues to lie about this situation, and defaming me and my crew, and causing real damage to our reputations, we'll end up using that in court.
I just wanted to correct the record with you.
Director, Michael Moore Hates America