Revisiting 101 with Depeche Mode superfans


STF Artistic Director Thom Powers in conversation with D A Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus and three Depeche Mode superfans. © Lou Aguilar

STF Artistic Director Thom Powers in conversation with D A Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus and three Depeche Mode superfans. © Lou Aguilar

This post was written by STF blogger Krystal Grow.

The iconic synth-pop band Depeche Mode took their name from the French words for ‘fast fashion,’ and as they set out on the road in 1988, with two 40 foot trailers, an emerald green jet and a convoy of tour buses loaded with young fans, they traveled at a nearly unrivaled speed.

This week’s installment of Stranger Than Fiction continued along it’s survey of DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus films, leaping from Dylan in the 60s and Broadway in the 70s to Depeche Mode 101 in the late 80s. In another of the duo’s candid music films, they follow the band on a tour across the US, where they were greeted by stadiums full of roaring crowds, who were fully submerged not only in the band’s hypnotic electro-pop, but also embraced and adopted their distinct sense of style.

“I’d never heard their music before. I didn’t know anything about them,” Pennebaker said in the Q&A following the film. “So I went to see them live in San Fransisco, and it was like they had this crowd there that just existed solely for them. After that I knew we needed to make the film.”

Q&A following the screening of DEPECHE MODE 101 © Lou Aguilar

And so began the verite-journey into the weird world of goth-pop-arena-rock, a genre that peaked with Depeche Mode‘s Music for the Masses tour and captured the strange cultural zeitgeist of the late 80s. The music was as anti-establishment as Pennebaker and Hegedus’ off-the-cuff filmmaking, but also had a melodic elegance and youthful energy. Led by Dave Gahan’s smooth but powerful alto voice, the band had corralled a massive and dedicated fan base, which came out en masse to most of their stateside performances. That crowd was an essential part of the story for Pennebaker and Hegedus, so much so that they organized a radio call-in contest to recruit a small posse of super fans to follow the band towards their penultimate performance at the Pasedena Rose Bowl.

“The music was so original, but we felt like we needed something else,” Hegedus said, “so we came up with this contest to take these kids across the country.” Those kids, with their hair spray, hats and exceptionally outlandish outfits, bring the epic fandom that Depeche Mode inspired to an adorably accessible level as they navigate their way through a kind of boozy synth-pop summer camp.

Now well into their adulthood, three of the eight contest winners were on the scene at STF this week, and joined the Q&A with Pennebaker, Hegedus, and STF Artistic Director Thom Powers.

“When the film first came out, I really didn’t like it,” said super fan Oliver Chesler, who is now musician based in New York and well known for innovative and unusual electronic compositions. “Then again, I was such a fanatic I really didn’t think any video footage could capture what it was like to be there and to see them, but looking back now, you really did.”

Filmmakers D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus with three Depeche Mode superfans, who won a radio call-in contest to travel cross-country to the band's 101 concert at the Pasadena Rose Bowl. © Lou Aguilar

Stranger Than Fiction’s twenty-fifth season features an eight-week tribute to the careers of D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. In the week’s following, STF will show MOON OVER BROADWAY (1998) a look behind the scenes at Carol Burnett’s return to Broadway; THE WAR ROOM (1993) on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, featuring George Stephanopoulos and James Carville; and ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE(2002) a celebration of soul-music legends Sam Moore, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes and others.

For the full season lineup, visit stfdocs.com/buy-tickets/

Krystal Grow is an arts writer and photo editor based in New York. She has written for TIME LightBox, TIME.com, LIFE.com, the New York Times Lens Blog, the Magnum Foundation and the DOC NYC blog. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale.


Monday Memo: DOC NYC Lineup Announced


This week the DOC NYC festival announced its lineup.

This week the DOC NYC festival announced its lineup.

This week the DOC NYC festival announced its lineup. At Indiewire, both Shipra Gupta and Anne Thompson had coverage of the announcement, as did Kevin Ritchie of Realscreen. Writing for The Wrap, Steve Pond highlighted the new Amy Berg doc set to premiere at the festival, while festival director of programming Basil Tsiokos shared details on the lineup at his blog, What (Not) to Doc.

The new Laura Poitras film, CITIZENFOUR, continued to draw attention from the press. Abby Aguirre interviewed Poitras for Vogue Magazine, while Sara Rafsky penned a piece on Poitras’ filmmaking process for the Columbia Journalism Review. At the New York Times, Michael Cieply had a piece on the potential political complications brought on by the film. And Fred Kaplan of Slate wrote a critique of the film’s approach to the use of classified documents.

This week Stranger Than Fiction hosts a screening of the film DEPECHE MODE 101 by filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker on Tuesday, October 21 at 8:30 p.m. at the IFC Center in Manhattan. The film chronicles the last leg of Depeche Mode’s 1989 tour. For more information or to purchase tickets please go here.

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Recording Studio as Sonic Microcosm – Company: Original Cast Album and Lambert & Co.


STF Artistic Director Thom Powers in conversation with D A Pennebaker following the screening of his films COMPANY: ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM and LAMBERT & CO. © Jasmin Chang

STF Artistic Director Thom Powers in conversation with D A Pennebaker following the screening of his films COMPANY: ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM and LAMBERT & CO. © Jasmin Chang

This post was written by STF blogger Krystal Grow.

If one thing is clear from the films shown at this week’s STF screening, it’s that the recording studio is a sonic microcosm capable of distilling the most massive of sounds and the most intimate of spaces into a single, auditory experience. In the fourth installment of the weekly film series’ tribute to filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, we become a part of that bubble of sound, and become enraptured observers of the seemingly endless struggle to capture the perfect take.

In 1964, Dave Lambert, famous for his work with the jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, was invited to the RCA studios to record a few test tracks for a possible full length record with a new group of singers he had pulled together since he split with his former partners. Lambert was already lauded as an accomplished, even groundbreaking composer, but Pennebaker’s unwaveringly objective lens never succumbs to hero worship. In the 15 minute film, the camera hovers over Lambert and his group, who arrange themselves in a tight circle around a single mic, while session musicians and studio engineers look on and play along from their designated sound booths. LAMBERT & CO. lays down three toe-tapping numbers that never made it to the official RCA catalog, leaving Pennebaker’s short film as the only remaining evidence of the group’s major-label aspirations.

In another feat of recording-studio-cinema verite, Pennebaker, Jim Desmond and Richard Leacock document the epic, 18-hour recording session with the original cast of the huge Broadway hit, Company. The 1971 musical by Stephen Sondheim follows the trials and tribulations of a handsome bachelor and his married friends through a series of non-linear vignettes. As the cast struggles with the pressure to record the definitive version of Sondheim’s songs, the film uncovers the incredible strain these performers were under and impressive stamina and professionalism they showed through countless takes and do-overs. In the film’s crescendo, theater veteran and Broadway powerhouse Elaine Stritch belts out her show-stopping rendition of ‘Ladies Who Lunch,’ flailing her arms wildly, while her eyes maintained a steely focus on the microphone, as if she were staring down the lyrics, or glaring at an audience in a packed theater.

“I just started crying as soon as I saw her on screen,” Pennebaker said of the Stritch, who passed away in July. “She knew music, instinctively, and it just poured out of her. I always got the feeling, no matter what she was listening to, that she knew something about it. Something special, that I’d never know.”

Stranger Than Fiction’s twenty-fifth season features an eight-week tribute to the careers of D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. In the week’s following, STF will show COMPANY: ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM (1970) featuring the late Elaine Stritch wrestling with Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company; DEPECHE MODE 101 (1989) following the pioneer synth/pop band across America as they end up selling out the Rose Bowl; MOON OVER BROADWAY (1998) a look behind the scenes at Carol Burnett’s return to Broadway; THE WAR ROOM (1993) on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, featuring George Stephanopoulos and James Carville; and ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE(2002) a celebration of soul-music legends Sam Moore, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes and others.

For the full season lineup, visit stfdocs.com/buy-tickets/

Krystal Grow is an arts writer and photo editor based in New York. She has written for TIME LightBox, the New York Times Lens Blog, Vocativ.com and the DOC NYC blog. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale.


Monday Memo: Poitras’ CITIZENFOUR Premieres at NYFF


The new film from Laura Poitras, CITIZENFOUR, had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival.

The new film from Laura Poitras, CITIZENFOUR, had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival.

This week CITIZENFOUR, the new film from director Laura Poitras on the events surrounding the NSA leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden, premiered at the New York Film Festival. Steven Zeitchik reported on the premiere for the Los Angeles Times, as did Emily Buder of Indiewire. At The Hollywood Reporter, Scott Feinberg posited the idea that the film had leapt to the top of the doc Oscar race. Ronnie Scheib of Variety reviewed the film, as did Eric Kohn of Indiewire. Also, George Packer released a profile of Poitras for the New Yorker. Finally, Adam Benzine of Realscreen reported that a new doc on Snowden, titled SNOWDEN’S GREAT ESCAPE, was in the works.

The film THE OVERNIGHTERS from director Jesse Moss premiered in theaters this week. At Nonfics.com, Katie Walsh interviewed Moss about how he handled some of the surprises thrown at him during production. Writing for the A.V. Club, A.A. Dowd gave the film an A- review, while Noel Murray of The Rolling Stone explored how the film came to be. And at the New York Times, Eric Hynes wrote on the intimate approach employed by Moss in making the film.

This week Stranger Than Fiction continues its tribute to Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker with a screening of COMPANY: ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM, a rarely screened film that documents the recording session of the Stephen Sondheim musical “Company.” It will be accompanied by the short LAMBERT & CO. The films screen this Tuesday, October 14 at the IFC Center in Manhattan at the special time of 8:30pm. Following the screening D.A. Pennebaker will be in attendance for a Q&A. For more information or to purchase tickets, please go here.

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Bob Dylan and Otis Redding through D A Pennebaker’s Lens


STF Artistic Director in conversation with filmmaker John Walter following the screening of D A Pennebaker's 65 REVISITED. © Lou Aguilar

STF Artistic Director in conversation with filmmaker John Walter following the screening of D A Pennebaker's 65 REVISITED. © Lou Aguilar

This post was written by STF blogger Krystal Grow.

The mood at Stranger than Fiction last Tuesday night felt less like a movie theater and more like a concert hall where people struggled to stay still and burst into applause after the rousing performances and rare live footage that exploded from the big screen.

In the third installment of STF’s tribute to legendary filmmaker D A Pennebaker and his groundbreaking team, viewers had the incredible opportunity to see two seminal musicians in a display of raw power and pure emotion. In SHAKE: OTIS AT MONTEREY, Pennebaker brings Otis Redding’s full 1967 Monterey Pop Festival performance to the forefront. Redding’s performance was cut to two songs in the original version of MONTEREY POP, but the full four song set at Monterey exposed an almost completely unprepared audience to a 25-year-old powerhouse of early R&B. In a shimmering, emerald green suit and backed by all-star bands Booker T. and the MG’s and The Mar-keys on horns, Redding was electric, pulsating on stage with unbridled joy and pure Memphis soul that enraptured the California crowd, ‘the love crowd,’ as Redding fondly addressed them, who responded with booming, gleeful cheers.

On the flip side of Pennebaker’s psychedelic-era-epic, STF viewers were treated to outtakes from his starkly revealing and fascinating black and white motion-picture-portrait of Bob Dylan. 65 REVISITED pulls together footage from DONT LOOK BACK, a film that, much like MONTEREY POP, completely revolutionized the concert film/music documentary genre. Dylan, already a near-mythic figure by 1965, was on tour in the UK, being followed and fawned over by everyone he encountered, coyly dodging questions and toying with expectations until the moment he walked on stage. Through Pennebaker’s lens, Dylan is like a monolith, completely alone, basked in a glaring white spotlight in the center of a massive stadium. Those performances, in front of thousands of people in concert halls across England, are jaw droopingly intense, but his back stage practice riffs and hotel room jam sessions are equally endearing in their accessibility. For all the fanfare and behind the deafening applause, Bob Dylan is actually just like every other musician. He fiddles with chord progressions and sometimes forgets lyrics. He casually tires out new songs on dusty old pianos, and occasionally stumbles on something brilliant, and Pennebaker catches it all.

 ”I remember just watching DONT LOOK BACK over and over and over again, basically teaching myself how to make documentary films,”  said filmmaker and STF alum John Walter, who joined STF Artistic Director Thom Powers for the Q&A following the screening. “I love the way he’s able to work with a single camera. He almost anticipates Dylan’s movements, and has some daring to follow through.”

Walter, who directed HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY, a documentary about eccentric pop artist Ray Johnson, said he admired Pennebaker’s completist approach to filmmaking, pulling every piece of information into the frame, and allowing the scene to speak for itself. “I love that ethic, aside from the gritty, raw feel of this film, that everything is part of the frame. That everything should be included. A documentary shooter would get in trouble for that sort of thing now.”

For all the trouble Pennebaker may have caused in making these exceptional films, his influence is still broad and far reaching in the documentary world, largely due to the success of MONTEREY POP and DONT LOOK BACK, which makes these perhaps unfairly named ‘outtakes,’ so special to see. They are the raw material behind the big picture, and a rare insight into two towering figures in music history that Pennebaker and his team captured at key moments in their careers, and that we’re lucky enough to see through his lens.

Stranger Than Fiction’s twenty-fifth season features an eight-week tribute to the careers of D A Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. In the week’s following, STF will show COMPANY: ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM (1970) featuring the late Elaine Stritch wrestling with Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company; DEPECHE MODE 101 (1989) following the pioneer synth/pop band across America as they end up selling out the Rose Bowl; MOON OVER BROADWAY (1998) a look behind the scenes at Carol Burnett’s return to Broadway; THE WAR ROOM (1993) on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, featuring George Stephanopoulos and James Carville; and ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE(2002) a celebration of soul-music legends Sam Moore, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes and others.

For the full season lineup, visit stfdocs.com/buy-tickets/

Krystal Grow is an arts writer and photo editor based in New York. She has written for TIME LightBox, the New York Times Lens Blog and the DOC NYC blog. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale.