D.A. Pennebaker

D.A. Pennebaker

Highest Rated: 100% Town Bloody Hall (1980)

Lowest Rated: 59% Al Franken: God Spoke (2006)

Birthday: Jul 15, 1925

Birthplace: Evanston, Illinois, USA

Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker made a significant impact on the way documentaries, and in particular, music-related projects, were produced through such groundbreaking films as "Dont Look Back" (1967), "Monterey Pop" (1967), "The War Room" (1993) and "Down from the Mountain" (2000). Born Donn Alan Pennebaker on July 15, 1925 in Evanston, Illinois, he lived with his father, commercial photographer John Paul Pennebaker, after his parents divorced shortly after his birth. His initial interest was mechanical engineering, and after earning a degree in the field from Yale in 1947, launched his own company, Electronics Engineering, which created an early reservation system for airlines. But after seeing "N.Y., N.Y.," a short color experimental film by his friend, filmmaker Francis Thompson, he sold the company and decided to become an artist. Thompson steered him towards filmmaking, and in 1953, Pennebaker directed his first film, "Daybreak Express," an impressionistic chronicle of New York as seen through elevated train tracks set to music by Duke Ellington. With Richard Leacock and former Life magazine editor Robert Drew, he formed Drew Associates in 1959, and created documentary films for various news and media clients, including ABC News. The company's first feature-length effort, "Primary" (1960), followed five days in the Democratic primary campaigns of John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey; the film was notable for Pennebaker's creation of a portable 16mm camera that also recorded synchronous sound on a Nagra tape recorder. The invention - which would be regarded as the U.S. version of the Canadian Direct Cinema genre, which used lightweight equipment and sync sound to "directly" capture reality - would revolutionize documentary filmmaking by providing the filmmaker greater control over sound and image, and Pennebaker and his associates would use it for several more documentaries, including "Jane" (1962), a portrait of the actress Jane Fonda, and "Crisis" (1963), which followed desegregation at the University of Alabama. Pennebaker and Leacock would leave Drew that same year to former the production company Leacock-Pennebaker, Inc.. Among their early efforts was "Lambert & Co." (1964), a portrait of jazz singer Dave Lambert's efforts to form a new vocal quartet after leaving Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Lambert's death in a car accident that same year brought attention to the film from, among others, Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, who proposed that Pennebaker film the singer's 1965 tour of England. The resulting project, "Dont Look Back" (1967), which showcased Dylan's pugnacious personality and boundless talent, was considered a defining title in the history of rock documentaries and music on film as a whole, while its opening sequence (conceived by Dylan) featuring the song "Subterranean Homesick Blues" while the singer rifled through cards printed with its lyrics was regarded as a forerunner to music videos. That same year, Pennebaker issued "Monterey Pop" (1967), which captured legendary performances by Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin and the Who at the Monterey Pop Festival. It, too, was a high water mark in music documentaries, and would make Pennebaker the filmmaker of choice for numerous rock performers, including Little Richard ("Keep On Rockin'," 1969), David Bowie ("Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," 1973) and John Lennon, whose ear-splitting performance with the Plastic Ono Band was captured in "Sweet Toronto" (1971). Between these efforts, Pennebaker served as cameraman for a series of experimental films by author Norman Mailer; response to the films was mixed, though one sequence-in which actor Rip Torn attacked Mailer with a hammer-would achieve greater fame than the film itself. Pennebaker also filmed a 1971 forum in which Mailer debated author Germaine Greer on women's liberation in front of an electrified audience. The footage would eventually be released in 1979 as "Town Bloody Hall" (1979). In 1982, Pennebaker married fellow documentarian and collaborator Chris Hegedus, with whom he would turn his focus towards social and political issues. Among their joint efforts was "The Energy War" (PBS, 1977), about President Jimmy Carter's fight to deregulate natural gas; "DeLorean" (1981), which followed carmaker John DeLorean as he conceived his iconic gull-winged vehicle; and the Oscar-nominated "The War Room" (1993), which followed the behind-the-scenes figures in President Bill Clinton's 1992 bid for the White House. Pennebaker also continued to produce profiles of pop music acts during this period, most notably "101" (1989), a concert film featuring the English band Depeche Mode at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, California, as well as profiles of jazz musician Branford Marsalis, alt-folk singer Victoria Williams, composer Elliot Carter and "Down from the Mountain" (2000), a concert film devoted to the soundtrack of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (1999). Pennebaker and Hegedus remained remarkably active in the new millennium, devoting their talent and energies to films on the crash of the Internet "bubble" ("Startup.com," 2001), the Emmy-winning "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty" (2004) and "65 Revisited" (2007), an hour-long documentary comprised of unused footage from "Dont Look Back" that accompanied a deluxe DVD release of the film. Their final efforts were "Kings of Pastry" (2010), a look at the participants in a high-profile French pastry competition, and "Unlocking the Cage" (2016), which examined lawyer Steve Wise's efforts to gain legal rights for animals. Between these efforts, Pennebaker received an honorary Oscar for his long and storied career; he died at the age of 94 at his home in Sag Harbor, New York on August 1, 2019.

Photos

Filmography

Movies

Credit
83% 71% Unlocking the Cage Director $26.6K 2016
86% 69% Kings of Pastry Director $336.2K 2009
No Score Yet No Score Yet The Return of the War Room Director - 2008
100% 100% 65 Revisited Director - 2007
59% 44% Al Franken: God Spoke Executive Producer $103K 2006
60% 59% Only the Strong Survive Director,
Film Editor
$57.3K 2002
97% 86% Down From the Mountain Director,
Film Editor
$301.4K 2001
93% 73% Startup.com Producer $1.3M 2001
94% 77% The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack Self $221.9K 2000
88% 60% Moon Over Broadway Director $15.1K 1997
96% 83% The War Room Director,
Film Editor
$67.2M 1993
No Score Yet 87% Depeche Mode 101 Director - 1989
No Score Yet No Score Yet Before the Nickelodeon: The Cinema of Edwin S. Porter Unknown (Character) - 1982
100% 64% Town Bloody Hall Director,
Producer
- 1980
73% 88% Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars Director $162.5K 1973
No Score Yet No Score Yet Keep on Rockin' Director - 1970
100% 94% Original Cast Album: Company Director - 1970
96% 90% Monterey Pop Director,
Cinematographer
$1.5K 1969
100% 92% Dont Look Back Director,
Writer,
Cinematographer,
Film Editor
- 1967
No Score Yet No Score Yet Elizabeth and Mary Director - 1965
No Score Yet No Score Yet The Chair Cinematographer - 1963
No Score Yet No Score Yet Mooney vs. Fowle Director,
Writer
- 1962
No Score Yet No Score Yet Jane Director - 1962
100% 69% Primary Sound Recordist,
Photographer
- 1960
No Score Yet No Score Yet Baby Director - 1954
No Score Yet 71% Daybreak Express Director,
Screenwriter,
Cinematographer,
Film Editor
- 1953

TV

Credit
No Score Yet No Score Yet Q With Jian Ghomeshi Guest 2013
No Score Yet No Score Yet Wall Street Journal Report With Maria Bartiromo Guest 2012
No Score Yet No Score Yet Storyville Director 2007

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