Don’t Look Back

The Criterion Collection is rereleasing one of my favorite documentaries with a brand-new transfer:

Bob Dylan is captured on-screen as he never would be again in this groundbreaking film from D. A. Pennebaker. The legendary documentarian finds Dylan in England during his 1965 tour, which would be his last as an acoustic artist. In this wildly entertaining vision of one of the twentieth century’s greatest artists, Dylan is surrounded by teen fans, gets into heated philosophical jousts with journalists, and kicks back with fellow musicians Joan Baez, Donovan, and Alan Price.

The restored audio is supposedly so good it changes the meaning of some of the scenes, including the infamous one with Donovan:

“It actually changes the movie,” Hendrickson says, in regards to the restored sound. “Take the Donovan scene: It has always been read as this big takedown, with Dylan taking the guitar and trying to one-up the singer. But now, you can actually hear Donovan ask Dylan to play ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ for him — it changes the intention of the scene entirely. It’s not nearly as negative! All of us in the office were watching the movie right after we put the sound track in and we suddenly, Wait…did he just request the song?!? And none of us could remember hearing that before.”

The Critierion folks have had some fun and put together this 2-minute reel of outtakes, which includes Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky dancing:

I was reminded when watching this of how PT Anderson uses stuff from his cutting room floor to make up his trailers.

I quote a bunch from this movie, including from this interview: “The truth is just a plain picture, maaan!”

And my wife and I like to quote this scene, especially with the kids: “Who threw that glass in the street? I don’t even CARE who did it, man, I just wanna KNOW who did it!”

Get it here.


The Museum of the Moving Image hosted Spectacle, an exhibition about the history of the music video. They showed DA Pennebaker’s incredible “Daybreak Express” which could possible be considered the first music video. Along with many of the ususal suspects - the ever-inventive Michel Gondry, Shynola, Chris Cunningham, there were a lot of cool clips I’d never seen before and original props and artifacts from videos.

This weekend at cinefamily—a full slate of screenings, interactive exhibits, workshops, and molecular gastronomy!

The exploratorium, founded by physicist/educator Frank Oppenheimer in San Francisco in 1969, may well be the most important science museum to open in the 20th century. And certainly the most fun. 

Their Cinema Arts program has used film in imaginative ways to ignite curiosity while encouraging exploration and learning. This weekend s proud to premiere a new preservation of Jon Boorstin's Exploratorium (1974), and to host a slate of experimental film selected by the Cinema Arts program’s Kathleen Maguire and Samuel Sharkey.

Plus a “mini” Exploratorium in the Cinefamily’s Spanish patio, featuring The Sweet Science, a dessert bar with flavor-tripping treats like liquid nitrogens ice cream and taste-modifying miracle berries.

The Cinefamily and The Academy Film Archive presents
Cinema & The Exploratorium: Science/Art/Perception/Discovery
Friday November 8 - Sunday November 10


Song of the Day: Otis Redding - I’ve Been Loving You Too Long

From Monterey Pop


David Bowie & The Spiders From Mars - Ziggy Stardust - Hammersmith Odeon Theatre - Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1973)

Happy Birthday Bowie!

Boomer Audit: D.A. Pennebaker Invents the Music Festival in ‘Monterey Pop by Elisabeth Donnelly

When the “Boomer Audit” was scheduled as a theme week — absolutely fair as we’re hitting the 45th anniversary of Woodstock — I felt relatively skeptical about it, as I have been lucky enough to live a life devoid of boomer values infecting my everyday existence, at least when it comes to my immediate family. My parents were the Silent Generation, born between the World Wars. As a result, while my peers had parents who were ex-hippies, with books like How to Tell Your Kids No When You Said Yes on their bookshelves, well, my parents, slightly older than the other parents, had missed out on that culture as they were too busy raising children and surviving.

So I have no sacred cows to murder in response to the idea that “Bob Dylan was a prophet, man,” or any of the other hoary old saws your boomer dad is likely to unleash after he’s had too many beers. What is a Dylan? Is he like The Kingston Trio or The Clancy Brothers? No? I didn’t see Jimi at Woodstock, I didn’t really get it in its context, even though he was a hot dude with amazing guitar talent. For me, boomer culture was just more in the background of pop — the way that Forrest Gump‘s soundtrack was the 60s classic rock station in a nutshell, the way that The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreamin'” felt like a cliche until Wong Kar-Wai made it new in Chungking Express.

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It was in the early ‘60s at the Cinémathèque in Paris that I met Jean-Luc Godard and we talked about doing a film together. His idea was to set up a town somewhere, and my partner Ricky Leacock and I would arrive and shoot whatever we found there, with no script or preparation on our part, like a newsreel. That film never happened, but a few years later Godard decided he wanted to make a film with us. PBL, forerunner of Public Television, agreed to produce it. The film was to be called 1 AM (One American Movie), and it was to be about the rising resistance to the Vietnam War and the impending revolution that Godard was convinced was about to happen in the U.S.

After shooting the film, Godard and Leacock both decided to leave town, Godard going off with Gorin to start a new leftist cinema and Leacock to teach at MIT. I was left to deliver something to Public Television or face severe contractual coercion. Thus, 1 AM became 1 PM (One Parallel Movie – or One Pennebaker Movie, as Jean-Luc has called it.)

Ricky had filmed pretty much what Godard wanted, but I was the extra camera that nobody noticed, and I filmed whatever looked interesting. So when I began putting the sequences together as Godard had suggested, I saw a lot of stuff I’d shot that hadn’t been planned, and I was soon making a film of my own. I doubt it was the film Godard had in mind when we started, but then, it seldom works out that way anyhow. I found what happened entertaining and filled with surprises. It’s some sort of history. I’m grateful to Jean-Luc, Ricky and everyone who showed up to see what would come of this crazy idea, and I am continually amazed that such a film would ever get made.


Otis Redding, Shake, Live at the Monterey International Pop Festival 1967. I would love to have been there to see the looks on the hippies’ faces when Otis went to town on their sandal-wearing tie-dyed asses. Woodstock gets all the love, but Monterey will always be my music-festival-of-yore-time-machine destination.


Holy shit, THE WAR ROOM. Follows senior Clinton campaign staff from ‘92 primaries to his unlikely landslide win on election night. Getting to peek inside presidential politics pre-cell phone is incredible. Young, jean-jacketed George Stephanopoulos is the coolest, young James Carville reveals himself a genius as the brain & motivational center of the campaign. His speech to staff on election night choked me the F up. If you devour Veep/House of Cards like I’ve been and enjoy the 1990’s, its a must C.


“Daybreak Express” (1953) directed by DA Pennebaker.

Congrats to Doc Legend D.A. Pennebaker for Winning an Honorary Academy Award

Late last night the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the four men who will be receiving special Oscars this fall at the 4th Annual Governors Awards dinner, and among the names is D.A. Pennebaker, a very deserving cinema legend who has been one of the leading figures in documentary filmmaking for the past fifty years.

Here’s the description of Pennebaker from the Academy’s press release, which highlights why he’s getting an Honorary Academy Award :

D. A. Pennebaker, a pioneer of modern nonfiction film, has directed more than 20 feature-length documentaries, including “Don’t Look Back,” “Monterey Pop,” “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” “Moon over Broadway,” “Kings of Pastry” and “The War Room,” for which he received an Oscar® nomination. During his career of more than six decades, Pennebaker has inspired generations of filmmakers with his “you are here” style. He is considered one of the founders of the cinéma vérité movement, beginning with his collaboration on the seminal 1960 film “Primary.”

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Although Hegedus and Pennebaker observe this neutrally, the film endows the War Room with an honorable glamour. If Stephanopoulos often seems like a sweet, but overbearing altar boy, the campaign’s senior strategist, Carville, is a flat-out movie star — he has the colorful charm of a wisecracking snake in a Pixar movie. Whether he’s joking or rousing the troops, this Ragin’ Cajun is so much fun to listen to that you see why Bill Hader can still bring down the house doing an impression of him on Saturday Night Live.

On DVD: Inside Bill Clinton’s Campaign ‘War Room’ : NPR

I wanted to say something intelligent here, but all I can think is, 'Dude, without my boyfriend’s parents, would anyone (like, talent agents, the American public) known or given a shit about George and James? Would George and James have, respectively, TV shows and hilarious SNL caricatures without Chris & Penny?’ And I’m obviously possibly biased but I think the answer is resoundingly, no. The War Room made a (well-run, entertaining in itself) political campaign more than just a behind-the-scenes necessity, a crucial but hidden and unglamorous cog in a political machine. It made politics entertainment. And as a result, its long-lasting effects go deeply into both politics (where the strategies and systems of Clinton’s war room, captured in the movie, can and have been used as blueprints and informal case studies for campaigns since) and entertainment (most obviously and recently in the Hulu-produced Battleground, which very clearly and, I think, respectfully, takes its cues from The War Room the movie).