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Innovator of Journalism, Film Dies

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Innovator of Journalism, Film Dies


Innovator of Journalism, Film Dies

Innovator of Journalism, Film Dies

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Richard Leacock helped invent the filmmaking style known as cinema verite. His work inspired such documentarians as the Maysles brothers and D.A. Pennebaker — as well as French New Wave directors like Truffaut and Godard and Americans like Martin Scorsese. Leacock died Wednesday at 89 in his home in Paris.


Filmmaker Richard Leacock has died. He was an innovator in both journalism and film, pioneering a style of documentary called cinema verite. The style influenced filmmakers from Francois Truffaut to Martin Scorsese.

NPR's Sami Yenigun has this remembrance.

SAMI YENIGUN: No matter who Richard Leacock filmed, he always let his subjects speak for themselves. It's just one of the self-imposed rules that he outlined in an interview on his website.

Mr. RICHARD LEACOCK (Filmmaker): We were shooting handheld, no tripods, no lights, no questions, never ask anybody to do anything.

YENIGUN: The approach became known as cinema verite, a style of documentary that took the camera out into the real world. He helped develop smaller portable cameras that allowed audiences into back rooms unreachable to the tripod-docked clunkers of the time.

Mr. ALBERT MAYSLES (Filmmaker): You didn't need a crew of four or five people. So with just two people, you could come that much closer to getting the real thing. That's the cinema verite.

YENIGUN: Albert Maysles is a filmmaker and longtime friend of Richard Leacock. They first worked together on a documentary called "Primary," a behind-the-scenes look at the 1960 race between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.

(Soundbite of documentary, "Primary")

Unidentified Man: Which way? What do you got? A lot of money there? Hey, that's just what I need for my campaign. Can I have that?

YENIGUN: The film was shot by Maysles and Leacock, and edited by D.A. Pennebaker.

Mr. D.A. PENNEBAKER (Editor, "Primary"): We could be sort of unseen filmmakers in their back rooms, and that was the first time that, I think, anybody had ever done this.

YENIGUN: This collaborative team of documentarians used their fly-on-the-wall approach later in "Monterey Pop."

(Soundbite of song, "Hey, Joe")

Mr. JIMI HENDRIX (Singer): (Singing) Hey, Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?

YENIGUN: The secret to Leacock's filmmaking was in his character, says Albert Maysles says.

Mr. MAYSLES: There was a kindness with everything that he shot. The way he looked, his whole composure, you know, would put people at rest - I can trust this guy. And the result was some of the best filmmaking that we've ever seen.

YENIGUN: Richard Leacock died Wednesday at his home in Paris. He was 89 years old.

Sami Yenigun, NPR News.

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