The Kennedy Films of Drew & Associates

Laughing Gravy
Balcony Gang, Foist Class
Laughing Gravy
Balcony Gang, Foist Class
Joined: September 1st, 2005, 4:44 am

June 2nd, 2018, 11:47 pm #1

Primary (1960) Prod. Robert Drew
Cinematography: Richard Leacock
Edited: D. A. Pennebaker
54 min. / B&W / 1.33:1

The Wisconsin primary on April 5, 1960 pitted Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts against Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey of nearby Minnesota; Robert Drew and his team had groundbreaking access to both campaigns, and invented handheld cameras and portable sound equipment to capture the drama of the race (they were sponsored by Time-Life, which was interested in securing new ways to provide news stories and documentaries to their television stations). The hour-long result was later edited to a half-hour and syndicated around the country after JFK's inauguration in 1961; the Criterion Collection gives us both versions.

A fascinating time capsule as our two candidates - who, let's face it, didn't differ much on the issues - criss-cross the state, Kennedy to huge crowds with his celebrity family in tow, heading to all the big cities and some not so big ones; Humphrey and his wife talking in rural areas to a few dozen invariably all male audiences made up, one assumes, of farmers (they look like farmers, anyway). I found it engrossing (but then, I've read The Making of the President 1960 three or four times in my young life) and it's hard not to feel a little sorry for good ol' Humphrey, although the knowledge that he later sold his soul to LBJ helps me get over it. Maybe all politics is local, but Humphrey's stump speech about the problems of farmers and Kennedy's about battling communists and making America safe from war resonate in completely different ways.

Million-dollar Real-Life Dialog:

Kennedy to gum-popping preteen kid after an autograph: "I got your vote?"
Kid: "Yep."

Humphrey in a speech to farmers: "Instead of you reading about who you oughta have as President in Life magazine, you oughta take a good look at him in the flesh."

The film ends with the candidates spending the night watching the returns pour in, and sure enough, Humphrey's early lead in the rural areas evaporates as the cities report. Kennedy ends up with 56% of the vote, but that's considered a disappointment(!) and Humphrey stays in the race and heads for West Virginia, which would be his Waterloo. Based on some of what we hear, the only reason Wisconsin was in play was because of anti-Catholic vote (although there are plenty of Catholics in the state to make up the difference).

Do Presidential candidates still stand on street corners handing out their cards (Humphrey) or shake hands at factory gates as the pre-dawn morning shift arrives (JFK)? I wonder.

Drew & Associates impressed Kennedy, who were invited into the White House twice to make other short documentaries, and then did a post-assassination retrospective. All four films are included in the Criterion set. Talk about history coming alive: hey, these guys in our books were real people (watch Jackie Kennedy wring her fingers nervously behind her back before being called on to say a few words in front of a huge crowd). Fascinating stuff.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley