D. A. Pennebaker’s Top 10

D. A. Pennebaker’s Top10

Filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker (Dont Look Back, Monterey Pop, The War Room) and Chris Hegedus (The War Room, Startup.com), creative partners and husband and wife, offer these favorites. Note: “This list was supposed to be ten in number, but I find that I am unable to restrict my choices. So, in veneration of my many years of film watching, there may be a few extra . . .” Read Hegedus’s top ten here.

Photo by Grant Delin

Nov 21, 2008
  • 1

    Alfred Hitchcock

    The Lady Vanishes

    The tea label stuck precipitously on the window was such an astonishing film idea that I will ever look to duplicate that feeling of chill in any film I make.

  • 2

    Robert Flaherty

    Nanook of the North

    This was the first Flaherty film I ever saw, and maybe the most important one, as I realized that he had removed the glass wall separating us from the performers in a way that, I could see, allowed anyone to make a film in his backyard. That was a revelation that got me thinking about what was needed to do it.

  • 3

    Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

    The Red Shoes

    There are parts of this film that told me absolutely that I was going to make a film myself, even if I had no idea how. Particularly, things like having a real dancer play the dancer lead. A little twitch of documentary stirred in my head.

  • 4

    René Clair

    Le million

    How I loved this film. It was what I had always wanted a musical to be. Little bits of music woven through a romantic story. I thought it was perfect, and I even made a tape of the soundtrack, which I still have, somewhere in the archives. A great opening—which, by the way, I think is the case with most of my film loves—and, of course, the two- and three-line songs that inspired the Marx brothers as well as many others, myself included. But I don’t think anyone did it as well as Clair.

  • 5

    Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

    I Know Where I’m Going!

    This was the first Powell film I ever saw. I saw it when it first came to New York, where it played for only a few days in its initial run, or so I figured when I tried to go back and see it again. I fell in love with that film, partly because of where it took place, partly because of who was in it, partly because of the way the music slipped in and out of it, and mostly because I could see that Michael Powell, whoever he was, was my leader. Years later, when I finally met him (I was trying to make The Riddle of the Sands with him, but couldn’t raise the money), I spent an entire lunch recalling all his lines from I Know Where I’m Going! In the face of my slavish foolishness, I remember he was most gracious.

  • 6

    Marcel Carné

    Children of Paradise

    This was the first French—maybe the first foreign—film I ever saw, and, as it turned out, one of the most romantic. The notion of undying love labeled me forever, and I loved it.

  • 7

    René Clair

    À nous la liberté

    Clair at his best, with the top hats flying all about and wonderful music, but it never got to me like my first Clair film—Le million. For me that was the best.

  • 8

    Ronald Neame

    The Horse’s Mouth

    This is not only one of the funniest films ever made, but, as one who has spent time with a number of painters, I could see that it was really about painters and painting. And it was responsible for my first film—a short that ran for almost a year at the Paris Theater in New York. Of course, I’ll always love it. One of the lines I love is when the helper lady asks how you can tell when a picture is finished, and the painter hero looks at her quizzically and says, “You just know.” For me, that was movies.

  • 9

    Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

    The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

    This is a hugely underrated film, probably because it is so long and, coming so soon after the war, it got almost no distribution here. But it’s my second favorite Powell film, because he really gets under the skin of the government that ran England. Of course, it’s all about Churchill. An amazing film.

  • 10

    Federico Fellini

    La strada

    My first Fellini film, at the old Normandy theater, and though I got to love all the rest of his work, this one, like all first loves, has a special place in my heart. Watching Zampanò on the beach, howling like a lost wolf at the black star-filled night, has never left me. What a way to begin a Fellini career. And it was one of the films I remember that had a great beginning, which got almost forgotten by the end.

  • 11

    François Truffaut

    Jules and Jim

    A miracle of discontinuity and absurd tomfoolery, but with the help of a fantastic music track and a great measure of talent from everyone connected—including the costume designer—it took off and never touched ground again. I first saw it in France, with no subtitles, and thought it was a wonderful story. When I saw it later with subtitles, I realized I’d gotten it all wrong. It was a completely different story. But it turned out not to matter. It’s simply a wild film ride. And the joke for me was that I thought I understood French.

  • 12

    Jean-Luc Godard

    Masculin féminin

    I’ve come to appreciate all of Jean-Luc’s films, even the bad ones. They are all of a kind, and such a unique kind. He’s like a cat. If you drop him on the floor, he lands on his feet. A natural filmmaker. And having personally worked with him on One PM, I can say with authority that he doesn’t bother himself with all the nitty-gritty details I seem to have to carry around. He just flies, and the film follows.