Featured on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck for the anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s death, our edition of The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates gathers four early exemplars of the movement known as Direct Cinema and showcases some of the greatest footage we have of American politics at work. Seeking to invigorate the American documentary format, which he felt was rote and uninspired, Robert Drew brought the style and vibrancy he had fostered as a Life magazine correspondent to filmmaking in the late fifties. He did this by assembling an amazing team-including such eventual nonfiction luminaries as Richard Leacock, D. A. Pennebaker, and Albert Maysles—that would transform documentary cinema. In 1960, the group was granted direct access to John F. Kennedy, filming him on the campaign trail and eventually in the Oval Office. This resulted in three films of remarkable, behind-closed-doors intimacy—Primary, Adventures on the New Frontier, and Crisis—and, following the president's assassination, the poetic short Faces of November. Alongside the films, watch an alternate cut of Primary; a documentary featuring archival footage; outtakes from Crisis; a conversation about Crisis featuring former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder and Sharon Malone, Holder’s wife and the sister of Vivian Malone, one of the students featured in Crisis; and more.
Also up this week:
1969 saw the release of Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider and the media circus ignited by the Manson murders, two seismic cultural events that cast a shadow on the freewheeling good vibes of the hippie era. This program brings together two films that capture the spirit of that chaotic year. In the 2012 experimental documentary Old Man, Brooklyn-based artist Leah Shore combines eye-popping animation with never-before-heard phone calls that Charles Manson made from jail to the infamous cult leader and Canadian author Marlin Marynick. In his directorial debut, Hopper created one of the great American road movies, a counterculture sensation that mixed New Wave–inspired aesthetics, a bold rock soundtrack, and star-making performances by Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson.
The movies have always been a source of inspiration and escape for this month’s guest curator, Man Booker Prize–winning novelist Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings). Growing up in Jamaica in the seventies, he got his first taste of international cinema by watching the country’s one TV station, which played art-house staples like Fanny and Alexander, The Seventh Seal, and 8½. In this episode of Adventures in Moviegoing, James talks with Antonio Monda, artistic director of the Rome Film Festival, about this experience and others that shaped his tastes, including his first time seeing a movie in a theater (Come Back, Charleston Blue) and his encounter with Happy Together, which he considers the “only effective depiction of a gay relationship” on-screen. Alongside the interview, James has also handpicked a selection of all-time favorites, including Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también, Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie, and Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line.