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The Independent Critic

Christo, Jeanne-Claude, Michael Bloomberg
Albert Maysles, Antonio Ferrera, David Maysles & Matthew Prinzing
Alive Mind Media, HBO, Lorber HT Digital
 "The Gates" Review 
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In a filmmaking career that has spanned over 50 years, Oscar-nominated documentarian Albert Maysles has, perhaps more accurately than any other documentary filmmaker, captured the everyday unfolding of daily life through masterful documentaries such as the Oscar-nominated "Christo's Valley Curtain" in 1974 to 2002's widely acclaimed "Lalee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton," Maysles (along with his late brother David, who died in 1987)has directed 35 documentaries and photographed 57 films with an undeniable air of authenticity often lacking among today's most popular documentary filmmakers, most notably Michael Moore.

Whereas Moore often approaches his subjects with a defined agenda and a sense of artistic license, Maysles becomes more the trusted observer whose natural instincts seemingly create such a strong relationship with his subjects that it often feels as if Maysles has simply taken along his camera as he travels through life.

In 30 years of artistic collaboration with the experimental artist Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Maysles has consistently created films of both artistic and intellectual beauty. The latest documentary based upon the work of Christo, "The Gates," follows the artist's decades long effort to create "The Gates," a 23-mile long artistic work in New York City's Central Park.

Denied in the 1970's, Christo's vision was brought back to life by New York City's unusually open-minded current mayor, Michael Bloomberg. In "The Gates," Maysles first offers a retrospective look back at Christo's early rejections and, finally, the manifestation of his controversial work in post-9/11 New York City.

Having had the opportunity to meet Albert Maysles during the 2007 Indianapolis International Film Festival, I found myself even more deeply enchanted by "The Gates" as I reminisced about this man who, even at the age of 80, clearly was soaking in everything around him.

As "The Gates" moves from committee hearings and fund-raising efforts to the creation of the installation itself, Maysles' film practically dances with an energy and poetry practically unseen in contemporary documentaries. With a psychological eye, the filmmakers capture both the derision of a suspicious public as the installation begins and, finally, their jaws practically dropped at the wonder and beauty that has unfolded before their very eyes.

During a year in which Michael Moore has, with great effort, brought forth a documentary markedly intent on calling out the American healthcare system, Albert Maysles' "The Gates" is a a subtle reminder that the most effective documentaries are the ones that allow their subjects to tell their own stories without interference from the filmmaker.

As co-directed by Antonio Ferrera, "The Gates" climaxes with the nearly silent unfolding of the installation against the backdrop of a New York City winter. As hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers visited "The Gates" over a two-week period, one couldn't help but be grateful for the trusting, inspired vision of Albert Maysles.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic