Perhaps the Academy took a step closer to taking non-fiction films seriously on a larger scale today. Legendary filmmaker, D.A. Pennebaker, creator of such films as Dont Look Back, War Room, and Monterey Pop will be the first documentarian ever awarded an Honarary Oscar.
I’ve always been moved by Pennebaker’s ability to transmit the feeling of a moment with the way he films it. Sometimes through the editing and sometimes through the framing, he possesses a preternatural patience for letting moments unfold exactly as it should to maximize its effect. I think of Janis Joplin’s obscured face as she belts “Ball and Chain” in front of an entranced festival crowd. Another filmmaker might’ve shot this in a straight-on close-up. For Pennebaker, Joplin’s partially masked face spoke to her inner psyche – one of mature pain and youthful energy – and forced the viewer to want to reach into the screen to be a part of the reality. I’d argue no other documentary filmmaker has been more consistently effective at turning the smallest, subtlest of moments into a touching experience on screen.
There’s so many memorable moments Pennebaker has captured, but the one that always sticks with me is from Dont Look Back. Two men, Dylan and Donovan, each at the heights of their careers, sing to each other in a cramped hotel room. Somehow the understanding that we are watching a genius in Bob Dylan and a passing talent in Donovan transcends the action on screen like no subtextual dialogue any screenwriter could conceive. Watch Dylan right before he blows Donovan away with his rendition of the aptly named, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”