Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the
September 5, 2001 edition of U.S. Newspaper. All rights reserved.
At the Movies
D.A. Pennebaker breathed new life into the very
of documentary film with his 1966 classic "Don’t Look back."
Trailing the 22-year-old Bob Dylan on his seven-city tour across the
U.K. (as he protested "I’m not a folksinger"), Pennebaker
captured a revelatory portrait — both belligerent and uncannily
workmanlike, on a tour that awed audiences and the musician himself
as he took the stage at a sold-out performance at London’s vaunted
Royal Albert Hall.
Over the course of a dazzling career Pennebaker, joined by his wife
Chris Hegedus, has moved seamlessly across the music world, bringing
audiences closer to Janis Joplin, Randy Newman, John Hiatt, Roseanne
Cash, Los Lobos, Laurie Anderson, Soul Asylum, Suzanne Vega, Depeche
Mode — the list goes on. So is it any wonder than the filmmakers
have now turned their lens on the latest new old thing, what Ralph
Stanley calls that "old-time, mountain-style
"Down From the Mountain," a film by D.A. Pennebaker, Chris
Hegedus, and Nick Doob, produced by Ethan and Joel Coen, and featuring
the musicians from the soundtrack of their latest film "O Brother,
Where Art Thou," opens the fall season of the New Jersey Film
Festival, with screenings Friday September 7, through Sunday,
10. The husband-wife team hope to put in an appearance at one of the
three screenings. (Call 732-932-8482 for details.)
Part concert film, part tent-revival, "Down From the Mountain"
follows a cavalcade of traditional acoustic musicians as they gathered
in May, 2000, for a one-night-only festive benefit concert in
famed Ryman Auditorium. The brainchild of the music-intoxicated Coen
Brothers, with production energy supplied by T-Bone Burnett and Bob
Neuwirth, the film brings forward the faces that match those "O
Brother" voices. And some of them are prettier than the actors
who portray them. We meet these musical families in rehearsal, in
the Green Room, and in a series of complete concert stage numbers.
Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Union Station,
Welch, David Rawlings, Chris Thomas King, the Cox Family, the Whites,
and the Peasall Sisters girls’ trio are all featured. The film also
serves as a tribute to musician, songwriter, and riverboat pilot,
John Hartford, master of ceremonies for the Ryman concert, who died
of cancer shortly after the completion of the film. Hartford’s
"Gentle on My Mind" has been recorded by more than 100
from Elvis and Sinatra to Lou Rawls and Tammy Wynette. But at this
show he gives a lilting, cheerful rendition of the hobo anthem,
Rock Candy Mountain."
Among the songs that are original to "Down From the Mountain"
and to its already-popular soundtrack CD are two new songs by Welch
and Rawlings, "My Dear Someone" and "I Want to Sing That
Rock and Roll," as well as the seductive sounds of Chris Thomas
King’s "John Law Burned Down the Liquor Store."
Pennebaker, now in his 70s, met and began collaborating with Chris
Hegedus in 1977. Together they have devoted much of their creative
energies to short and feature-length films about music. The pair
a Randy Newman music videos before there were music videos and before
there was MTV. Since those pioneering days, their numerous shared
credits include John Hiatt, Soul Asylum, Suzanne Vega, Victoria
and Marti Jones.
In a phone interview from their New York studio, Hegedus
says that her company was brought onto the scene when "O
was in its final print review stage. It came about when she and
ran into Bob Neuwirth, 1960s road manager and friend to Bob Dylan
in "Don’t Look Back," who has remained their friend, too.
"We saw him at the Austin Film Festival and he had heard from
T Bone, who we also know, that the Coens were batting around the idea
of putting on the concert and would we be interested in being
she says. "The concert was in May, so we had about a month’s
The filming took place over a brief two-and-a-half days when the
all came together for rehearsals followed by the nighttime
Eight camera-people are credited for filming "Down from the
and this, too, took on a festive character.
"We always love to film these musical events, and they’re kind
of an excuse for us to get our friends who are filmmakers to join
us filming what we all love to film the best. These are all filmmakers
in their own right, so the experience was pretty much two different
types of artists meeting each other."
Nick Doob, who has worked with Pennebaker since the early ’70s,
a camera and was the primary editor. All eight shot during the
Pennebaker, Hegedus, Doob, and Joan Churchill shot the concert.
the backstage activity was shot by John Paul Pennebaker, Jehane
and Jim Desmond. Sound recording was by Alan Barker.
"The musical families seem to be very close. And I was so happy
to be introduced to them all. Suzanne Cox’s voice is one of my
"We quite often shoot musicians because we love them so much,"
says Hegedus, in a tone of undisguised awe. "What is so
about them to me is that they have some quite innate gift that you
cannot pretend. I mean I could probably study to become a doctor or
lawyer, but I could never become a musician. I could never have that
skill. These people are amazing. It’s also amazing to watch the
that happens when they get on the stage.
"For instance John Hartford carried the event," she continues,
"but when we first met him backstage we could see he was very
sick. We didn’t see how he was going to carry it off. But he looks
almost more beautiful than any of them. When these artists are they’re
doing what they love, it becomes magical."
Family ties are a supreme aspect of the traditional music world,
here by Coxes, Whites, and Peasalls. But D.A. Pennebaker (known
as Penny) is also very much part of a family business. As the father
of eight, all his children have worked with him at one time or
Two are still in the film profession. Frazer Pennebaker has produced
most of Hegedus and Pennebaker’s films, including their most recent
projects, "Startup.Com," "Down from the Mountain,"
and the forthcoming "Only the Strong Survive." John Paul
31, is a filmmaker with his own company. Son Kit, 19, is beginning
his sophomore year at NYU Film School. Youngest daughter Jane, at
14, has already appeared on screen as an actress. But right now she
seems singularly uninterested in film.
"I took her with me when we went to show `Startup.com’ at the
2001 Sundance Film Festival. She spent all her time snowboarding and
only attended one screening — mine," says her mother.
chronicling the birth, boom, and bust of a startup company, is doing
well for Hegedus. "The subject is timely, and after the market
had crashed everyone became even more interested. We didn’t believe
it when we were filming. It was like the Gold Rush. And we’re lucky
to have recorded it because it has ended up as a historic record of
a market bubble." The film opens in five theaters in London this
Pennebaker, whose "cinema verite" introduced an altogether
new style of fly-on-wall documentary, takes a slightly more
tack in "Down From the Mountain." Although there is no
narration or interview as such, musicians here do address themselves
and their thoughts to the camera.
"We never think of ourselves as flies!" protests Hegedus.
"Basically we’re asking people to open up their lives to us and
let us witness times of their lives that are very meaningful to them.
But we’re also rooting for the people we’re filming — so we’re
not involved in any kind of adversarial relationship."
She does admit, however, that the term has tended to stick with
"One of the reasons we get the fly-on-the-wall quality is because
we film in a very small way," she says. "There are essentially
just the two of us. And when you’re camera and director, you can do
what you want. So in Nashville, we could just jump in the car with
Ralph Stanley and go down to the radio station with him. A director
and a producer and a camera crew couldn’t do that."
"Also, shooting on video is recent for our company. It was a lot
more difficult when we were shooting film. Because a lot of the films
we make end up being about people or circumstances that are of
importance, we like to archive them and know that they will last.
So we used film. Now finally the process of transferring from video
to film [for theatrical distribution and archival purposes] has got
technically to the point that it looks pretty good."
Where does the documentary film get made, in the camera or in the
editing, we ask.
"You anticipate a story, but because it’s real life, you never
know what’s going to happen," says Hegedus. "In `Down from
the Mountain’ you know pretty much what the story is going to be like.
But in `The War Room’ [their 1992 Oscar nominated documentary] we
didn’t know we were going to make the story we ended up making. We
thought we were going to make a film about the people who wanted to
be elected president, but we made the story about the people —
George Stephanopoulos and James Carville — who engineered the
Thus documentary film making still keeps veterans on their toes.
always think of it as detective work," says Hegedus. "Finding
the story in real life, then finding it again, and seeing what you
— Nicole Plett
Scott Hall, Room 123, College Avenue campus, New Brunswick,
Friday through Sunday, September 7 to 9. Directors D.A. Pennebaker
and Chris Hegedus will be present to answer questions at one of the
screenings; call for details.
College Avenue campus, near the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton
Street. Thursday screenings are in Loree Hall, Room 024, Douglass
College campus, near the corner of Nichol Avenue and George Street;
with selected free events at Borders Books, Route 18 South, East
Admission $5; all programs begin at 7 p.m. Call 732-932-8482 or on
the Web at: www.njfilmfest.com.
on the streets of London and the coast of Spain; Jonathan Glazer
September 14 to 16. Blood of a Poet, this 1930 art film by poet
and writer Jean Cocteau presents the filmmaker as modern poet,
September 20. Amores Perros, set in Mexico City, the stories
of a teenager, a businessman, and an assassin, September 21 to 23.
of the classic fairytale, Thursday, September 27.
Confirm titles with theaters.
Zeta-Jones, and Billy Crystal. AMC, Loews, Regal.
and his brother Frank. AMC, Loews, Regal.
AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Regal.
animated film with voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, and Mark
Hamill. AMC, Destinta, Regal.
bored housewife who loses her family while on vacation.
suit to help him travel to search for his girlfriend. AMC,
Loews, MarketFair, Regal .
the Italian army occupying a Greek island during World War I. AMC,
Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Regal .
Tinkles, an evil feline, in a film of animation, and puppetry.
Auteuil, and Thierry Lhermitte in a story about an accountant at a
contraceptive manufacturing company. Montgomery.
and starring Woody Allen, with Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron, and Dan
Aykroyd. AMC, Garden, Loews, Montgomery, Regal.
who finds the body of her son’s gay lover on the beach near their
home. AMC, Montgomery, Regal.
on Mars in the year 2025. AMC, Destinta, Garden, Loews, Regal.
angst and boredom in suburbia. Garden, Montgomery.
learning prize-winning gardening techniques in a rehab program.
to Hollywood to profit on movie featuring their comic book
Written and directed by hometown boy, Kevin Smith. AMC, Destinta,
Loews, MarketFair, Regal .
with the unknown written and directed by Victor Salva. AMC,
Loews, MarketFair, Regal .
AMC, Destinta, Loews, Regal.
determined to end to blonde jokes by attending Harvard. AMC,
and Vince Vaughn as two mobster wannabees traveling from Los Angeles
to New York. AMC.
in 1999 (prior to Columbine), set in a Southern boarding school with
modern language and acts of violence. AMC, Destinta, Loews,
as a white blood cell sent to save Bill Murray from a deadly virus.
AMC, Destinta, Regal.
about the mother of two children who must live in total darkness.
AMC, Destinta, Loews, MarketFair, Regal.
Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale. AMC, Destinta, Regal.
Boulle’s classic with design, makeup and visual effects. AMC,
Destinta, Loews, Regal .
Julie Andrews, Hector Elizondo, Heather Matarazzo, and Caroline
in film about a teen princess. AMC, Destinta, Loews,
and Jon Lovitz in a race to win $2 million. AMC, Destinta, Loews,
MarketFair, Regal .
Destinta, Loews, MarketFair .
Ed Norton, Marlon Brando, and Angela Bassett. AMC, Loews.
non-stop talking donkey, and John Lithgow as the villain. AMC,
parents to babies who must save the world. AMC, Destinta, Loews,
local guy Freddie Prinze Jr. AMC, Destinta, Loews,
AMC Hamilton, Sloan Avenue, I-295 Exit 65-A,
24-screen, stadium-seating multiplex. $7 adults; $5 matinees; $5
Destinta, 2465 South Broad Street, Hamilton,
12-screen. $6.75; $5 matinees.
Garden Theater, 160 Nassau Street, 609-683-7595. Two
screens. $8; $5 seniors & children; and $5 for all shows before 6
Loews, Route 1 South, New Brunswick, 732-846-9200.
$8.50; $5.25 matinees.
MarketFair-UA, Route 1 South, 609-520-8700. $7.50
adults; $4.75 matinees.
Montgomery Center Theater, Routes 206 and 518,
609-924-7444. $7 adults; $4.25 matinees.
Regal Cinemas, 319 Route 130 North, East Windsor,
Stadium-seating, 15 screens. $7.50; $5.25 matinees.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.