D. A. Pennebaker  

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"I believe cinema verité set back documentary filmmaking twenty or thirty years. It sees documentary as a sub-species of journalism ... There's no reason why documentaries can't be as personal as fiction filmmaking and bear the imprint of those who made them. Truth isn't guaranteed by style or expression. It isn't guaranteed by anything." --Errol Morris cited in “Jargons of Authenticity (Three American Moments)” by Paul Arthur, Theorizing Documentary (1993) by Michael Renov

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Donn Alan Pennebaker (July 15, 1925 – August 1, 2019) was an American documentary filmmaker and one of the pioneers of direct cinema. Documentaries about performing artists and politics were his primary subjects. He was known for his hand-held camera aesthetic.

Pennebaker was an important chronicler of sixties counterculture.

To the general audience, he is probably best-known for the film clip to "Subterranean Homesick Blues", in which Dylan displays and discards a series of cue cards bearing selected words and phrases from the lyrics of the song.

Process and style

Pennebaker's films, usually shot with a hand-held camera, often eschew voice-over narration and interviews in favor of a "simple" portrayal of events typical of the direct cinema style Pennebaker helped popularize in the U.S. Of such an approach, Pennebaker told interviewer G. Roy Levin published in 1971 that "it's possible to go to a situation and simply film what you see there, what happens there, what goes on, and let everybody decide whether it tells them about any of these things. But you don't have to label them, you don't have to have the narration to instruct you so you can be sure and understand that it's good for you to learn." In that same interview with Levin, Pennebaker goes so far as to claim that Dont Look Back is "not a documentary at all by my standards". He instead repeatedly asserts that he does not make documentaries, but "records of moments", "half soap operas", and "semimusical reality things".

An accomplished engineer, Pennebaker developed one of the first fully portable, synchronized 16mm camera and sound recording systems which revolutionized modern filmmaking. His aesthetic and technical breakthroughs have also had a major influence on narrative filmmaking, influencing such realist masterworks as Barbara Loden's Wanda, which was filmed and edited by one of Pennebaker's protégés, Nicholas Proferes, and even popular satires such as Tim Robbins' Bob Roberts.

Filmography




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "D. A. Pennebaker" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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