In preparation for our upcoming release of D. A. Pennebaker’s groundbreaking 1967 Bob Dylan documentary Dont Look Back, we recently visited the legendary filmmaker at his home, where he introduced us to an old friend.That’s the 16 mm Auricon camera he personally converted in the sixties to make it more mobile for shooting Direct Cinema–style. This sound-recording camera was originally made for news camerapeople, but because of its heaviness (nearly thirty pounds) had always been mounted on a tripod. A group of documentary trailblazers, including Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, Al Maysles, and Pennebaker, changed all that. According to cinematographer John Bailey in a great and informative blog post, “Drew had used a million-dollar grant from Life magazine to strip down the bulky Auricon to half its weight.” This is how the group filmed the 1960 John F. Kennedy documentary Primary with such dazzling dexterity.
As Bailey goes on to point out, Pennebaker made a modification to the Auricon that involved attaching a grip handle to the front of the camera, allowing it to rest more comfortably on one’s shoulder. One of the first times this was used was on Dont Look Back. Though it was relatively lightweight, the camera was somewhat back-heavy because of the magazine being slung behind the shoulder, which could cause inexperienced operators to lean backward.
Among the hours of outtakes from the film, some of which we’ll be featuring on our release, is a reel of silent footage shot by a particularly illustrious amateur cameraman: Bob Dylan himself. In the following glimpses from that footage, shot in one of the musician’s London hotel rooms, you can get a sense of the difficulty he had wielding the Auricon, which tends to want to arc up to the ceiling. And, yes, that’s Allen Ginsberg dancing like a madman.