Monday, June 15, 2009

Rule #2

The second rule of documentary is to respect your elders. If a little too much.

A few years back, T and I started our production company and named it Daybreak Films partly in honour of the many dusk til dawn sessions of talk, booze and excitement but largely in honour of this film - Daybreak Express by D.A. Pennebaker.

I've never even been to New York but if this film doesn't capture, with brevity and lyricism, the energy and excitement of making pictures move then I don't know what does.

Pennebaker wrote of this perfect 5 minute film:

"I wanted to make a film about this filthy, noisy train and it’s packed-in passengers that would look beautiful, like the New York City paintings of John Sloan, and I wanted it to go with one of my Duke Ellington records, “Daybreak Express.”

I didn’t know much about film editing, or in fact about shooting, so I bought a couple of rolls of Kodachrome at the drugstore, and figured that since the record was about three minutes long, by shooting carefully I could fit the whole thing onto one roll of film. Of course that didn’t work since I couldn’t start and stop my hand-wound camera that easily so I ended up shooting both rolls and even a few more before I was through. It took about three days to film, and then sat in a closet for several years until I figured out how to edit it and make a print that I could show on a projector.

I took it to the Paris theater to see if they would run it. By pure chance it ended up with the Alec Guiness comedy, THE HORSE’S MOUTH which ran there for nearly a year. Since I had a large collection of jazz records, I figured I’d found a way to break into the film business with music films, and it did get me started, but I was never able to make another film like Daybreak."

D.A. Pennebaker

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