Daybreak express

5 minutes

Thai country living

15 minutes

It’s rocket science

5 minutes

A brief history of the devil

5 minutes

HAGS (have a good summer)

9 minutes

D A Pennebaker transformed documentary filmmaking. This is his first film

The US filmmaker D A Pennebaker – a pioneer of the documentary form – died on 1 August 2019 at the age of 94. He is perhaps best-known for his feature films Don’t Look Back (1967), a remarkable portrait of Bob Dylan while on a concert tour near the height of his fame, and The War Room (1993), which followed Bill Clinton’s run and eventual surprise victory in the 1992 US presidential election. Coming of age at a time when portable 16mm cameras with the ability to record sync sound on the fly allowed filmmakers newfound levels of freedom, Pennebaker was one of the first US documentarians to use the tools and aesthetics of cinéma vérité (or direct cinema), which emphasised recording reality with authenticity and representing stories truthfully.

With its frenetic pace, early morning hues, avant-garde touches, and playful use of shapes and patterns, Pennebaker’s first short, Daybreak Express (1953), made for a precocious debut. The sounds of an eponymous Duke Ellington composition form the film’s clattering backbone, as Pennebaker crafts an urban mosaic from Manhattan’s soon-to-be demolished Third Avenue elevated train line. While more experimental than much of the work he would be celebrated for later, Pennebaker’s career-long knack for kinetic editing, adventurous storytelling and skilfully marrying music and images still permeates nearly every frame. Today the impressionistic short plays not only as an ode to the dizzying dance of New York City transit, but the very power and potential of the documentary form itself.

Director: DA Pennebaker

The rhythms of rural Thailand, where both food and music are sourced from the ground

Thai Country Living is a film with a title that doesn’t leave you wondering. This charming short documentary by the UK filmmakers Ben and Dan Tubby (also known as the Tubby Brothers) takes viewers on a brief journey to the Isaan region, in Thailand’s northeast. The host for the trip, Suman Tapkham, provides the home cooking, with ingredients fresh from his small farm; the music comes via a bamboo instrument known as a khaen, which Tapkham crafts by hand; and the warm conversation is largely made of reflections on his life spent in the country, and his worries that the unique culture there might soon be lost. Through their portrait, the Tubby Brothers capture a slice of Thailand far from the bustle of Bangkok most commonly associated with the country, and, for many viewers, a more than welcome portion of armchair travel.

Directors: Ben Tubby, Dan Tubby

Producer: Somboon Vichaisre

Website: Tubby Brother Films

How sky-high dreams launched one man’s audacious life in homemade rocketry

As the first civilian to successfully launch an amateur rocket into space in 2004, and a holder of a great many rocketry-related world records since the 1960s, Ky Michaelson has truly earned his self-anointed title as ‘The Rocketman’. Following a decorated career as a Hollywood stunt performer and coordinator, Michaelson, now aged 82, is retired from show business and spends most of his time building rockets in his garage. And his audacious spirit hasn’t mellowed with age. These days, he has his sights set on launching the first homemade manned rocket into space. This upbeat documentary portrait by the US-based director Rachel Knoll explores Michaelson’s unconventional path as a high-school dropout turned rocket engineer who wouldn’t let dyslexia stop him from aiming for the sky.

Director: Rachel Knoll

Producer: John Pesavent

The devils you know – how Satan became a versatile stand-in for all manner of evil

From the three-headed man-eater of Dante’s Inferno to the Mephistopheles of German folklore, clad and caped in red in a Goethe-penned stage production, depictions of Satan have mutated into a fearsome multitude of pitchfork-wielding, fire-summoning and otherwise malevolent creatures. But how did a somewhat minor character from the Old Testament evolve into a versatile shorthand for all manner of human evil? Featuring a parade of the many meme-ified devils that have come to permeate the public imagination, this crafty animation from TED-Ed provides a brief history of how some of Satan’s most infamous forms came to be.

Video by TED-Ed

Directors: Reza Riahi, Mehdi Shiri

Writer: Brian A Pavlac

A filmmaker reflects on his adolescence with the help of some long-lost friends

In HAGS (Have a Good Summer), the US filmmaker Sean Wang casts his newest project from the pages of his middle-school yearbook. Calling up five long-lost friends that he hasn’t spoken to in years, Wang zeroes in on the two most willing to chat – Way Chen, who’s working at a restaurant while trying to make it as a dancer, and Fahad Manzur, who worries he just might have peaked in eighth grade – for an exploration of middle school, young adulthood and the wide chasm in between. Overflowing with sound and sight gags, Wang brings an apt sense of carefree humour to the work. But beyond its novel concept and nostalgic charms, the film also offers touching reflections on identity, the second-generation American experience and how expectations of ‘adulthood’ evolve even after you reach it.

Director: Sean Wang

Animator: Deepti Menon

D A Pennebaker transformed documentary filmmaking. This is his first film

The US filmmaker D A Pennebaker – a pioneer of the documentary form – died on 1 August 2019 at the age of 94. He is perhaps best-known for his feature films Don’t Look Back (1967), a remarkable portrait of Bob Dylan while on a concert tour near the height of his fame, and The War Room (1993), which followed Bill Clinton’s run and eventual surprise victory in the 1992 US presidential election. Coming of age at a time when portable 16mm cameras with the ability to record sync sound on the fly allowed filmmakers newfound levels of freedom, Pennebaker was one of the first US documentarians to use the tools and aesthetics of cinéma vérité (or direct cinema), which emphasised recording reality with authenticity and representing stories truthfully.

With its frenetic pace, early morning hues, avant-garde touches, and playful use of shapes and patterns, Pennebaker’s first short, Daybreak Express (1953), made for a precocious debut. The sounds of an eponymous Duke Ellington composition form the film’s clattering backbone, as Pennebaker crafts an urban mosaic from Manhattan’s soon-to-be demolished Third Avenue elevated train line. While more experimental than much of the work he would be celebrated for later, Pennebaker’s career-long knack for kinetic editing, adventurous storytelling and skilfully marrying music and images still permeates nearly every frame. Today the impressionistic short plays not only as an ode to the dizzying dance of New York City transit, but the very power and potential of the documentary form itself.

Director: DA Pennebaker

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Dani people preparing for a pig feast. Baliem Valley, West Papua, Indonesia, 1996. Photo by Susan Meiselas/Magnum

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