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How to Smell a Rose: A Visit with Ricky Leacock in Normandy

2014
Distributed by Kino Lorber Edu, 333 West 39 St, Suite 503, New York, NY 10018; 212-629-6880
Produced by Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht
Directed by Les Blank, Gina Leibrecht
DVD, color, 62 min.
Middle School - General Adult
Cinéma vérité, Documentaries


Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, American University

Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 7/15/2016

“How to smell a rose” is a quote by documentary pioneer Robert Flaherty in response to the question “how do you make a movie?” It’s a zen koan that also summarizes the filmmaking life of Ricky Leacock who strived to capture the essence of real life with his camera. Leacock who learned a lot about capturing details and spontaneous moments while serving as a cameraman during the making of Flaherty’s A Louisiana Story (2003) went on to refine that style as one of the founding fathers of Direct Cinema.

Les Blank, another documentary auteur, brought his camera for a visit to Leacock and his girlfriend (later wife) Valerie Lalonde at their farm in Normandy in 2001. The result is a fitting tribute, a Direct Cinema-style work celebrating the life of one of the foremost exponents of the style.

Despite his pursuit of capturing the intimate moments of his subjects lives, Leacock began his career when cameras weighed 100 lbs and required a separate sound recorder, both of which usually sapped the ability to capture spontaneity. It wasn’t until 1960 when Leacock, working with Robert Drew, Albert Maysles, and D.A. Pennebaker, developed the idea for a compact 16mm camera with an attached sync sound recorder. This invention, built by Bell Labs, freed the cameramen to go places that hadn’t been possible previously. Their first film with the new rig was Primary (1960) about Hubert Humphrey and JFK on the campaign trail. It wasn’t about politics so much as about the impromptu moments along the way. The invention of the handheld rig and the reception of the film spawned a boom in the Direct Cinema genre and Leacock was at the forefront.

Portions of eleven of his films are included in this work as are many moments of the days Blank visited with him and Valerie, much of which centers around the preparation of food, all bound together with Leacock’s lifetime of stories.

Leacock died in 2011 and Blank passed in 2013. Both were masters of documentary film and this film provides a frame to teach about the intrinsic meaning of Direct Cinema in a way that evokes its power. Recommended for any collections with documentary film strengths.