Obituary: Saluting Richard Leacock, 1921-2011

Richard Leacock

Richard Leacock, 1921-2011

The noted filmmaker Richard Leacock, best known as one of the pioneers of the “cinema verite”-style of documentary filmmaking — a more direct, realistic approach to the form — died on March 23, 2011. He was 89-years-old.

Though he directed some 20-plus feature films and shorts (including 1984’s Lulu in Berlin, a documentary on actress Louise Brooks, and the popular 1963 short Happy Mother’s Day about a woman who gives birth to quintuplets), Leacock is best known to DiscDish as the cinematographer of some of finest documentaries of the 1960s and 1970s, many of which he collaborated on with such well-known colleagues as D.A. Pennebaker (The War Room) and Albert & David Maysles (Grey Gardens).

Here’s a group of fine documentaries wherein the late Mr. Leacock was behind the camera as the director of photography, snagging each and every shot that served the real-life story each movie was telling.


Primary, 1960

Louisiana Story (1948, directed by Robert Flaherty)
Leacock served as cinematographer and associate producer in this documentary-styled fiction fiction about a 12-year-old Cajun boy. Directed by one of the cinema’s first documentary filmmakers. Louisiana Story was reportedly the movie that sparked Leacock’s interest in his further explorations of the non-fiction cinematic form.
Available on DVD
from Homevision

Primary (1960, directed by Robert Drew)
Drew’s groundbreaking documentary on the 1960 Wisconsin Primary election between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey offered viewers their first-ever verité-styled look at the ins and outs of contemporary campaigning.
Available on DVD from New Video

Monterey Pop movie scene

Monterey Pop, 1968

Monterey Pop (1968, directed by D.A. Pennebaker)
The seminal rock doc focuses on the first-ever rock’n’roll festival, which took place in 1967 at the height of the Summer of Love. Leacock’s all-seeing lens gets up-close and intimate with such rock royalty as Janis Joplin, The Who, Simon and Garfunkle, Otis Redding and a guitar-burning Jimi Hendrix.
Available on DVD
from Criterion Collection

Company: Original Cast Album (1970, D.A. Pennebaker)
This intimate look at the recording of the original cast album of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 Broadway musical captures a handful of amazing performances (led by an seemingly inebriated Elaine Stritch’s “Ladies Who Lunch”) as well the real-life drama percolating between the show’s creators and its cast.
Available on DVD
from New Video

Directed by William Wyler (1986, Aviva Slesin)
This hour-long look examination of the life and career of the director of such classics as Ben-Hur and Roman Holiday features an all-star cast of interview subjects, as well as a lively turn by Wyler himself, who was interview just three days before he died at the age of 79.
Available on DVD
from Kino Video

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.