Thompson on Hollywood

L.M. Kit Carson remembers documentary filmmaker Richard Leacock, who died March 23 at age 89. (Video interview and film clips below).

Ricky Leacock means a lot of good to a lot of film-people. Many showed up starting at 9:30 AM June 5 at Lincoln Center’s nearby Walter Reade Theater at the unique Leacock Memorial. People filled the place – and stood up in a loose order – to break their memories back to how Leacock changed them.

To remember…

Leacock. Who raises the question: “What does a camera see?” His answer – camera sees everything: what you show it – and at the same time, what you don’t show it – this is how he played out the foundation of cinema-verite.

Leacock. Someone who looks for the meaning of people. Searches and studies their faces – y’know? And someone – as docu-partner D.A. Pennebaker noted – who…”Made everything an adventure, even just going for Lunch.” And someone – as docu-partner Robert Drew noted – who… “Worked decent.” – recalling that when they were shooting the inside-politics of Primary, Drew had gotten an arrangement with the Kennedy Team to shoot inside Kennedy’s hotel-suite on the final hours of the local Vote-Night. But Leacock said no – and only agreed to stand in the hallway shooting through the open doorway to the suite: shooting Kennedy walking back-and-forth thinking, determined and vulnerable as the district-by-district vote-counts were broadcasting on the suite-TV. Drew: “Leacock said that doing any closer shooting would be what he called ‘morally intrusive’.”

Leacock. Who taught by doing it – with the camera he did find out – the real story. And say more: he taught that the docu-filmmaker has a moral responsibility for what he finds by shooting. Put it this way – one day in the screening room at Drew Associates (where I worked pre-college as assistant-assistant editor synching up 16mm rushes) – we were watching new footage from an African docu-shoot. And Al Maysles was shooting around inside a primitive African passenger-train car. And at the other end of the passenger-car – a woman begins nakedly nursing her baby. And Al turns his camera to the nursing woman – and he’s slowly slowly zooming in closer-and-closer to her – then Al’s camera wobbles; then hesitates; then stops; then slowly starts zooming back away from the nursing woman. And suddenly Leacock’s voice booms out in the dark room: “That’s right, Al! Y’can’t get too close, can you?!”

Leacock. Every camera position – was a moral position – for him. He shot and worked from his smart-heart. (No way No stunt not-exactly-re-al-i-ty-TV.)

For two last Sunday hours: there was Remembering Leacock – his nephews even sang a folksy Leacock-song. And an M.I.T. colleague (where Leacock started the Film School) revealed what he thought was Leacock’s secret motto – which he found in Leacock’s handwriting on the back of a photo of Leacock’s children: “Make Haste Slowly."

Afterward many friends clustered together to talk more Leacock. Like nobody wanted to stop – remembering Leacock. More than hard to forget.

Maybe makes you remember a good part of yourself. Yes- that’s good not to forget. Especially maybe in the critical-journo-now.

An interview with Leacock:

Part One of his interview with Louise Brooks:

Part One of D.A. Pennebaker's classic 1968 concert doc Monterey Pop; Leacock was on of six cinenatographers: