In today's Wisconsin primary, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are competing for delegates, just as John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey did in 1960. The 1960 Wisconsin primary was also a landmark media event. It was the first time that a film crew actually followed candidates as they campaigned. The result was a documentary called, "Primary," considered to be the earliest example of cinema verities.

NPR's Mike Pesca reports that it changed campaigning and the business of campaign reporting.

MIKE PESCA: Too many times it would happen, journalist Robert Drew would go out on an assignment with a photographer for Life magazine, turn in a terrific print story and then watches television turns the same exciting events into something limp. The problem with these boring - his word - boring documentaries of the day was that they were more like lectures. At the time, television cameras were cumbersome monstrosities that couldn't survive in the wild. But in 1960, a portable camera that could actually record sound and move around freely was about to be introduced and Drew realized that new technology could change everything we knew about documentaries.

ROBERT DREW: Now this camera was - is about to become operational and we've set a date and I began looking across the country at various developments and stories. There was this young senator who wanted to run for president...

PESCA: The senator was John F. Kennedy. The event was the Wisconsin primary where he would be facing down Minnesota senator, Hubert H. Humphrey. Up until that point, watching the candidate work a crowd, was only possible if you were in the crowd. For the first time ever, viewers would be able to see Humphrey's common touch.


HUBERT HUMPHREY: I'm Senator Humphrey. Is this your boy here? How do you do? Hello son, how are you? What do you got - a lot of money there? Say, that's just what I need for my campaign. Can I have that? I'm running short...

PESCA: They could witness Kennedy's youth appeal.


JOHN F: If you would (unintelligible), I'll send you a picture and autograph, and tell you about the Capitol.

PESCA: And voters would be able to get a sense of the commotion and excitement of the crowd.


Unidentified Woman: The senator is ready to arrive in - I'd say a minute and a half or so, and there has been some complaint by the women that one of their dresses has been burned by a man smoking cigars at the (unintelligible), so if you'll just, please...

PESCA: The film crew on "Primary," headed by Drew and comprised of Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles was almost entirely ignored by the candidates. For one thing, the filmmakers were strict about adhering to the role of observer: No interviews, no retakes, no could you move into a better light? But the main reason they blended was the fact that no one realized the project was even possible.

The candidates did give permission to be filmed but they seem to forget that their actions would be seen outside the rooms they were in at the time. Here, Humphrey rails against the Eastern media with abandon.


HUMPHREY: And I'll tell you they have no more appreciation of a farmer's problem than they have of what's going on to the other side of the moon. Frankly, they don't know the difference between a corn cob and a ukulele.

PESCA: It seems crazy today, when of course, every utterance is recorded, edited and posted it online within hours. But campaigning in 1960 wasn't so different from campaigning before the invention of film. In 1960 there were maybe half a dozen people alive who saw a glimpse of the future. They were all spending feverish nights, editing together reels of tape on the documentary, "Primary." Albert Maysles was one of them.

ALBERT MAYSLES: I remember watching the first scene that we have put into synchronization and it was like a gift from heaven. We all got so excited knowing that we were starting a revolution.

PESCA: Unlike the revolution, "Primary" was not televised, except on a few local TV stations and after the election. Though attending to the fanfare of (unintelligible), "Primary" changed filmmaking, spurring a movement which came to be called cinema verities and also redefining elections.

Now that candidates are aware that their every action will be captured on camera or even cell phones, they've grown wary, controlling media access and guarding against stray moments of authenticity. This means that the level of intimacy captured on one of the first political documentaries of its kind may never be duplicated.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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