By now we’ve seen so many re-creations and perfectly edited scenes capturing Beatlemania that we think we know what it looked like—even if we weren’t there. But nothing gives us a better feel for that moment than the Maysles Brothers documentary What’s Happening: The Beatles in the U.S.A., the lesser known Hard Days Night (later edited as The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit).
Here are John, Paul, George, and Ringo, hilarious and so very young, trying to register all that’s going around them—and it’s all spontaneous. There is no prompting. There are no leading questions (at least from brothers Albert and David).
And the Maysles knew The Beatles weren’t the only ones going through a transformation. They carried their cameras into a home and filmed a family watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. Now, because of their instincts, we know what that looked like too. It’s preserved forever.
From The Beatles to the Stones in Gimme Shelter to Jessye Norman and more recently Rufus Wainwright, Albert Maysles (who lost his brother partner in 1987) showed these musicians in the thick of their experience, as it happened, not through carefully crafted soundbites. In our overly composed, 140-character-or-less-world, their films—and not just the brilliant music docs—are more essential than ever, and speak volumes. Thank you, Albert Maysles.