Primary Review

A fly-on-the-wall documentary sketch of the Wisconsin primary that proved crucial to John F. Kennedy in his bid to secure the Democratic presidential nomination over Hubert Humphrey.

by David Parkinson |
Published on
Release Date:

24 Oct 2010

Running Time:

60 minutes



Original Title:


A former reporter on *Life *magazine, Robert Drew developed the technique of what he called Candid Camera while producing items for TV titans Ed Sullivan and Jack Paar. However, film history credits Canadians Michel Brault and Gilles Groulx's Les Raquetteurs (1959) with being the first conscious example of Direct Cinema, which found echo as Cinéma Vérité in Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin's Chronique d'un Été in 1962.

         However, there's no doubting Drew's importance to the evolution of the documentary film. Eschewing the conventional tactics of voice-over narration, formal interviews and pieces to camera by an investigative reporter or celebrity presenter, Drew aspired to producing actualities that revealed `the logic of drama' inherent in any given situation. Consequently, he pioneered the technique of shooting in long takes with direct sound in a bid not only to capture the energy and authenticity of an event, but also to seize the viewer's senses, as well as their intellect. In order to achieve this, he and Richard Leacock opted for new lightweight 16mm Auricon cameras and magnetic tape recorders, which were locked in sync.

         For the week-long shoot of Primary, Drew operated as Leacock's sound recordist, while D.A. Pennebaker did the same for Albert Maysles, and their unprecedented all-areas access enabled them to catch the candidates in quieter moments, as well as in the hubbub of the convention circus. The American public had never before seen its political leaders in such uncompromising close-up and there's no question that the shot of JFK passing through empty corridors before striding on to the stage before an adoring crowd did as much as the iconic images of him with his wife Jackie to secure his eventual election and establish the myth of Camelot.

            However, many have cited this landmark picture with undermining the cult of deference that surrounded US Establishment figures and unleashing the wave of protest movements that would transform the nation over the ensuing decade. It certainly forced politicians to reappraise their relationship with the media and Washington only succeeded in regaining control of the news agenda during the Bush administration.

Important entry in the development of the documentary genre.
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