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D.A. Pennebaker, ’60s counterculture documentarian, has passed away

D.A. Pennebaker, the man who revolutionised the music documentary genre in the ’60s, has passed away.

Some of his most notable films include Don’t Look Back (1967), a documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1965 UK tour, and Monterey Pop (1968), a film documenting the 1967 Californian festival of the same name. Pennebaker’s long list of subjects includes Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Bill Clinton, Jimi Hendrix, and Germaine Greer.

d.a. pennebaker, music documentary, bob dylan, david bowie, don't look back, monterey pop

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives

D.A. Pennebaker, director of ’60s counterculture documentaries on the likes of Bob Dylan and David Bowie, has passed away.

Pennebaker had a unique vision, he aimed simply to film things as they occurred. In a 1971 interview with G. Roy Levin, Pennebaker described his style as creating a portrait, like “a window someone peeps through.”

Rejecting the inclusion of any voice-overs or interviews, he instead preferenced the use of hand-held camera and a simple portrayal of events. Pennebaker’s distinct style ultimately led to him being one of the pioneers of the cinema verité aesthetic and realism in American filmmaking.

Between Don’t Look Back and Eat The Document (1972) – shot by Pennebaker under Dylan’s direction – Pennebaker captured a crucial period where Dylan transitioned from acoustic to a more rock and roll sound, and through these collaborations the pair have been attributed with inventing the idea of the rockstar.

He also had a hand in revolutionising the technical side of modern filmmaking, developing one of the first fully portable, synchronised 16mm camera and sound recording systems. In 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Pennebaker an honorary Lifetime Achievement Oscar.

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August 5, 2019