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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates [Blu-ray]

 

(Robert Drew, 1960, 1963, 1964) NOTE: Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker, Kenneth Stilson for Adventures on the New Frontier)

 

 

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Disc Size: 49,846,707,661 bytes

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: April 26th, 2016

 

Titles
Runtime:

0:53:22.532

0:26:53.069 (Leacock version)

Feature Size:

 9,303,908,352 bytes

4,650,006,528 bytes

Video Bitrate 19.53 Mbps 19.58 Mbps

 

Titles
Runtime:

0:52:43.160

0:52:49.833
Feature Size:

9,139,212,288 bytes

9,099,970,560 bytes
Video Bitrate 19.63 Mbps 19.50 Mbps

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Drew Associates

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #808

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Commentary on Primary:

Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

Faces of November (12:10)

Alternate, twenty-six-minute cut of Primary, edited by filmmaker Richard Leacock
Audio commentary on the Leacock edit of Primary, featuring Leacock and filmmakers Robert Drew and D. A. Pennebaker, recorded in conversation with film critic Gideon Bachmann in 1961
Robert Drew in His Own Words, a new documentary featuring archival interview footage (34:12)
New conversation between Pennebaker and Jill Drew, Robert Drew’s daughter-in-law and the general manager of Drew Associates (26:22)
Outtakes from Crisis, along with a discussion by historian Andrew Cohen, author of Two Days in June (46:23)
New 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 (26:15)
New interview with Richard Reeves, author of President Kennedy: Profile of Power (27:12)
Footage from a 1998 event at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, featuring Drew, Pennebaker, Leacock, and filmmaker Albert Maysles (26:41)
PLUS: An essay by documentary film curator and writer Thomas Powers

 

Bitrate:

Primary

 

 

Primary (Leacock Cut)

 

 

Adventures on the New Frontier

 

 

Crisis (aka 'Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment')

 

 

Primary Description: 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. Collected here are all four of these titles, early exemplars of the movement known as Direct Cinema and featuring the greatest close-up footage we have of this American icon.

 

The Films (Primary):

Primary is a 1960 Direct Cinema documentary film about the 1960 Wisconsin primary election between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey for the United States Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States.

Produced by Robert Drew, shot by Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles, and edited by D. A. Pennebaker, the film was a breakthrough in documentary film style. Most importantly, through the use of mobile cameras and lighter sound equipment, the filmmakers were able to follow the candidates as they wound their way through cheering crowds, cram with them into crowded hotel rooms, and to hover around their faces as they awaited polling results. This resulted in a greater intimacy than was possible with the older, more classical techniques of documentary filmmaking; and it established what has since become the standard style of video reporting.

In 1990, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The film's importance in the evolution of documentary filmmaking was explored in the film Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment.

Excerpt from Wikipedia located HERE

***

Adventures on the New Frontier: The camera follows newly-elected President John F. Kennedy around the White House as he conducts his daily business, meeting with various people in the Oval Office to discuss matters of government. Flashbacks to the 1960 campaign and footage from his 1961 Inauguration show how Kennedy rose to take on "the free world's most awesome responsibility". To supplement the President's discussions on policy, the camera shows viewers the economic hardships of a West Virginia mining town and takes them along on a diplomatic trip to Ethiopia.

Excerpt from IMDb located HERE

***

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment is a 1963 cinéma vérité documentary film directed by Robert Drew. The film centers on the University of Alabama's "Stand in the Schoolhouse Door" integration crisis of June 1963. Drew and the other filmmakers, such as D. A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock, were given access to all the key areas, including United States President John F. Kennedy's Oval Office and the homes of United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Alabama Governor George Wallace. The film first aired on ABC television four months after the incident. In 2011, it was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

During a two-day period before and after the University of Alabama integration crisis, the film uses five camera crews to follow President John F. Kennedy, attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, Alabama governor George Wallace, deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach and the students Vivian Malone and James Hood. As Wallace has promised to personally block the two black students from enrolling in the university, the JFK administration discusses the best way to react to it, without rousing the crowd or making Wallace a martyr for the segregationist cause.

Excerpt from Wikipedia located HERE

 

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Criterion new Blu-ray The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates is cited as a 'new 2K digital restorations of all four films' (Primary - 1960, Adventures on the New Frontier - 1961, Crisis - 1963 and Faces of November - 1964).  Shot on 16mm - we get a similarly rich textured appearance as found on Pennebaker's Don't Look Back, Cassavetes Faces, Christopher Nolan's Following, Maysles brother's Gimme Shelter etc. There are a few light damage marks but the black and white contrast is a strong point. There is no depth or noise and this representation seems to adhere to the authenticity of the original production roots. This Blu-ray exports a beautiful grain-soaked feel adding to its vérité sensibilities. I was very impressed with the appearance.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Criterion transfer the audio with a linear PCM for all 4 films - it sounds clear and audible adhering as closely as possible to the original source utilizing the uncompressed monaural soundtrack. There is some background music - (I Wish I Was in) Dixie's Land and Battle Hymn of the Republic to name a couple. It sounds solid with a bit of tightness, a pinch of perceived depth and, obviously, flat. Dialogue is realistically scattered and there are optional English subtitles on the region 'A'-locked Blu-ray disc.

 

Extras :

As stated we get Robert Drew's 1964, 12-minute film, Faces of November - made for ABC News, we see the preparations for the funeral with transitions into rainy night and the tears of a grieving nation. It is very touching. There is an alternate, twenty-six-minute cut of Primary (aka Leacock version), edited by filmmaker Richard Leacock and its quality is similar to that of the other films and seems to focus a shade more on Hubert Humphrey than the original Primary. I found it interesting although there is repeated footage found in Adventures on the New Frontier. We get an interesting, vintage - 1961, audio commentary on the original Primary (not the Leacock version as advertised on the Criterion webpage), featuring Leacock and filmmakers Robert Drew and D. A. Pennebaker, recorded in conversation with film critic Gideon Bachmann. It discusses the movement and its implications and how it developed. Robert Drew in His Own Words, is a new, 34-minute documentary featuring archival interview footage. Few film companies can boast the legacy of Drew Associates - some of the biggest names in documentary history began there. This piece, produced by Criterion weaves together interviews with Drew to present a portrait of a man who conceived a new way of creating nonfiction cinema, and then marshaled an amazing array of talent to realize his vision. There is a new, 26-minute, conversation between Pennebaker and Jill Drew, Robert Drew’s daughter-in-law and the general manager of Drew Associates. They discuss the early days of Direct Cinema, working for Robert Drew, and the joys and challenges of filming the president of the United States. We are also privy to 46-minutes of Outtakes from Crisis, along with a discussion by historian Andrew Cohen, author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours that Made History. We also get a new, 26-minute, 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 a new, 27-minute, interview with Richard Reeves, author of President Kennedy: Profile of Power. Criterion include 26-minutes of footage from a 1998 event at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, featuring Drew, Pennebaker, Leacock, and filmmaker Albert Maysles and the package has liner notes with an essay by documentary film curator and writer Thomas Powers.

 

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
I really love older things. Especially 'Americana' from the 40's through the 60's. It spills over into my appreciation of Noir. I think, as I age, it is become more apparent that I am really repelling and avoiding 'modern things'. I'll watch vintage films as opposed to modern ones at at ratio of 10:1. Of all my adult acquaintances - that I am aware - I am the only one that doesn't own a cell-phone. I often think I was born far too late.  In this most colorful political year in the United States - these films were so refreshing. They held an entirely different philosophy of politics - so much closer to embracing the ideals that established government, the Presidency, positive change etc. I've watch these 5 films (including the Leacock version of Primary and Faces of November) twice each. I wish I could adequately express how I feel when I watch them - but it is certainly is both passively dumbfounded and sadly nostalgic. The Criterion Blu-ray package is, as you might expect me to say, wonderful. I find it has immense value - more so in today's Koyaanisqatsi culture and absurd body politic than at any time in my life - I ask myself - "How have we gone so far astray?" I hope you get a similar enjoyment out of it that I did. It has our highest recommendation. 

Gary Tooze

March 29th, 2016

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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Gary W. Tooze

 

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