“The apolitical does not exist – everything is politics.”
—Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924)
President John F. Kennedy with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1963)
The 2008 political season is in full swing and it’s been an unforgettable year so far. Watching the first African-American to accept a presidential nomination at the Democratic convention last week was staggering. It was an incredibly important historical moment that I wasn’t sure I’d ever see in my lifetime. Like many Americans I’m extremely weary of the entire political process, but watching political campaigns unfold is an opportunity to watch history in the making and I’m fascinated with American history.
My fascination with history is what recently led me to watch three interesting historical documentaries about John F. Kennedy. The films are part of the The Robert Drew Kennedy Films Collection – JFK Revealed which Docurama Films just released as a nicely packaged DVD set. The three films included in this collection are Robert Drew’s Primary (1960), Crisis (1963) and Faces of November (1963). The 2-disc set also contains some impressive extras such as lengthy audio commentaries by Robert Drew and his cinematographer Richard Leacock. And a behind-the-scenes film called The Originators that features the director and his film crew at the time which included two of the most important documentary filmmakers of the sixties, D.A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back (1967), Monterey Pop (1968), Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973) , etc.) and Albert Maysles (Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter (1970), Grey Gardens (1975), etc.).
President Kennedy with brother Robert Kennedy
Mourners at President Kennedy’s funeral (1963)
Watching these three films together offers interested viewers an opportunity to watch history unfold in a way that is often more thought-provoking and honest than many modern documentaries. They also reminded me of how brief President Kennedy’s time in office was and how much he managed to accomplish during those few years. There is a stark quality to all the films that makes them resemble old newsreels and that could be distracting to a few viewers but if you’re interested in American history and politics these films are definitely worth a look. Director Robert Drew is one of the leading figures of the North American Direct Cinema movement and besides their obvious historical importance, the three films featured in The Robert Drew Kennedy Films Collection showcase groundbreaking documentary techniques that have become commonplace now.