Primary Film - Cinema Verite - Criterion

If you’re a film buff, you might already know about Cinema Verité — that documentary wave that exploded in the 1960s with up-close and realistic explorations of important subject matters of the day.

But, just in case you don’t you may want to check out the Criterion Channel.

The team has curated a smorgasbord of Cinema Verité titles to kick-off 2023. If you like your docs pounding with realism and that 1960s/1970s era film grain than you’ll be right at home.

Filmmakers Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin coined the term and led the movement so it’s not surprising their milestone film lead the charge. Chronicle of a Summer (1960) sees Rouch and Morin take to the streets of Paris with a simple question: Are you happy?

Other Cinema Verité titles streaming on Criterion include:

  • Primary (1960)
  • Crisis (1963)
  • Dont Look Back (1967)
  • Portrait of Jason (1967)
  • Warrendale (1967)
  • Monterey Pop (1968)
  • Salesman (1969)
  • Woodstock (1970)
  • Gimme Shelter (1970)
  • Nationtime (1972)
  • A Poem Is a Naked Person (1974)
  • Grey Gardens (1976)
  • Harlan County USA (1976)
  • Running Fence (1977)
  • Always for Pleasure (1978)
  • Burden of Dreams (1982)
  • American Dream (1990)
  • The War Room (1993)
  • Kings of Pastry (2009)

Concert fans will probably already be familiar with Monterey Pop (1968) and Woodstock (1970). However, as you can see in the above list there’s plenty of content to dig into.

I find it interesting that (relatively) lightweight cameras would help catapult this nimble and run-and-gun documentary style back in the day. A similar movement would take place — albeit, with different motivations and consequences — with the advent of, again, lightweight DSLR cameras. In particular, with the release of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II in 2008 there was an excitement about the possibilities of capturing 1080p HD video with a camera body that could support a massive library of interchangeable lenses (Canon EF mount) giving creators all sorts of possibilities. Indeed, that plus the ability to record digitally to small SD cards in lieu of expensive film cartridges certainly opened many doors to lower budget productions.

In any case my favorites of the 1960s/70s still remain the avant garde art-house stuff: Agnes Vardas; Chantall Ackerman; Jean-Luc Godard of course; and so many others.

Recent watches?

You absolutely must sample some Czech New Wave! Try Daisies (1966, Věra Chytilová) and The Cremator (1969, Juraj Herz). Wow, creative powerhouses — and testament to motivated filmmakers working around (directly through?) communist censorship.

Also: German New Cinema. Check out pretty much anything by Ulrike Ottinger, most notably Ticket of No Return (1979). You might see where artists like Madonna, Lady Gaga and others sought inspiration for their fashion sensibility and music video art design. Or also the glorious filmography of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, especially Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and Querelle (1982).

Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear