Filmmaker and friend, 1981
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View Ricky's films in filmography below by clinking on the links...
passed away in Paris on March 23, 2011, with Valérie Lalonde at his
bedside. It's ironic that a retrospective with Ricky and his films was
planned for the Pompidou Center two evenings later, so Val carried the "RIcky
and Valérie Show" by herself. She mentioned that a beautiful technician helped
carry Ricky away, and Val said Ricky would have loved to have seen that! Just
before he left us, Ricky published his book The Feeling of Being There: a
Filmmaker's Memoir. It can be purchased from Valérie on her
wrote a number of compelling essays
on filmmaking, as well as the text of his memorable interview with the
opinionated, intelligent, and sexy silent film star Louise
On March 1, 2001, he joined us in person in San Jose to show a few of his films and
meet our audience, and remained one of the Academic Film
Archive of North America's most ardent supporters.
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Born in London, July 18, 1921, Leacock grew up on a banana plantation in the
Canary Islands till shipped off to School in England. He attended Bedales, then
Dartington Hall Schools from 1929 to 1938, where he helped form a student film
unit, and made his first film, Canary Bananas, an
eight minute silent film.
His primary contribution to classroom academic film in the United States is a
series of approximately five films made for the Physical Sciences Studies Committee (PSSC) in
the late 1950s, A Magnet Laboratory, Frames of Reference, Electric Fields,
Law, and Crystals. One of the pioneers
of the ‘Cinéma Vérité’ movement, his documentary work also appeared in
schools, as edited versions of films made originally for U.S. television
networks. Through his teachings, he has influenced many filmmakers, and, from
his farm in Sartilly, France continues to produce his own documentary work with
his partner and colleague Valerie Lalonde. A brilliant essayist and film
theoretician, Leacock champions the right of the individual filmmaker to create
and produce his or her own work on low budget, and insists on the necessity of
retaining distribution rights as well. ciné16 encourages
film enthusiasts to read Leacock’s essays,
powerfully written, opinionated, and refreshingly non-stuffy.
___ . ___
A Biographical Filmography
The following was primarily written by Leacock, with occasional additions
by Geoff Alexander. All comments are by Leacock, unless indicated by (GA).
1935 CANARY BANANAS: 8m. Filmed on his father's plantation, Leacock’s
sophisticated use of pans and tilts described the process of planting,
harvesting, and shipping Canary Island bananas. This film was shown to family
friend Robert Flaherty, who would hire him after the war, largely based on the
remembrance of this early film (GA).
1938 filmed the David Lack Expedition to the Galapagos Islands.
1939-42 Read Physics at Harvard University spending much time producing plays.
1940 Summer job as assistant to assistant editor with Frontier Films in New
York, splicing much of NATIVE LAND (1942), dir. Leo Hurwitz/Paul Strand.
1941 TO HEAR YOUR BANJO PLAY: 20m, dir. Charles Korvin (Geza Karpathy). On this
summer job, Leacock shot folk singers in the mountains of Virginia including
Texas Gladden and Horton Barker on 35mm with sync sound (this film was completed
by Willard Van Dyke & Irving Lerner after the war, with added footage of
Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee).
1942 Left Harvard to become a "Combat-Cameraman" in the American Army,
serving in the Arctic, the Burma Campaign and in China.
1946 LOUISIANA STORY: 14 months as cameraman with Robert and Francis Flaherty (“an
experience of a lifetime!”).
1947-8 Cameraman-director with John Ferno (Fernhaut) on seven short
films in the 'Earth and Its People' series, two in France, and one each in Holland,
Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and the Sahara Desert (Desert Nomads),
produced by Louis De Rochemont. About the films, Leacock writes: "Johny
and I shot for 18 months and sent our negatives to New York where they were
developed and edited without our seeing anything until it was all over. We
hated the way they were cut and narrated. Too bad!" Films in this
'Factories Mines and Waterways' (Industrial Western Europe)
'Food For Paris Markets' (Northern Rural France
'Land Behind the Dikes' (The Netherlands)
'Mountain Farmers' (Switzerland)
'On Mediterranean Shores' (Southern Greece)
'The Po Valley' (Italy)
1948 Camera for Willard Van Dyke's MOUNT VERNON and THE NEW FRONTIER.
1949 Director Cameraman on EARTHQUAKE IN ECUADOR (about effects and aftermath of
the Pelileo Earthquake) for United Nations.
1950 HEAD OF THE HOUSE Writer-Dir.-Edit. An acted "documentary" for US
1952 THE LONELY NIGHT Dir. by Irving Jacoby, filmed by Leacock.
1954 JAZZ DANCE: 20 min. Cameraman with Bob Campbell on Roger Tilton's film.
Photographed on 35mm with small hand held cameras; a limited breakthrough.
1954 TOBY AND THE TALL CORN: 30 min. Writer-Director-Camera-Editor, a film
report on a traveling tent-theater in the Middle West, (made for the
1954 WHO'S RIGHT: 18 min. Written and Directed by Irving Jacoby,
cinematography by Leacock.
1956 A CONVERSATION WITH MARCEL DUCHAMP. Filmed for NBC News’
with Elder Wisemen’ series.
1957 HOW THE F-100 GOT IT'S TAIL 20 min. 35 mm Dir. by Leacock. A military
reenactment for Omnibus TV.
1957-9 Directed five physics films, including
FRAMES OF REFERENCE,
LAW, THE COULOMB FORCE CONSTANT, A MAGNET LABORATORY,
CRYSTALS for the
Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC).
1958 BERNSTEIN IN ISRAEL: 30 min. A close look at a conducting tour. (Used 16mm
film & sound equipment for the first time, also for 'Omnibus').
1959 BERNSTEIN IN MOSCOW: 55 min. The New York Philharmonic visit to USSR.
1960 Joined Robert Drew in Drew Associates along with Pennebaker, Albert Maysles
and others, making experiments in journalism that came to be called "Direct
Cinema", which -resulted in such films as:
1959 BULL FIGHT AT MALAGA: 20 min. 1959 Drew and I tried to film “mano á mano"
with equipment built for us that didn't work the way it was supposed to. With
Luis-Miguel Dominguin, Ordoñez, Hemingway, et a1.
1960 PRIMARY: 30 min. Sen. Kennedy's election campaign in Wisconsin.
1960-1 ABC’s ‘CLOSE-UP’ series was originally
produced by in-house producer John Secondari, but four episodes were contributed
by John Drew’s group. In protest of the utilization of this independent
production team, ABC VP of News John Daly resigned. Leacock was directly
involved in the following episodes:
YANKI NO!: 55 min. Castro's takeover in Cuba.
KENYA: LAND OF THE WHITE GHOST The election of the first black majority in
THE CHILDREN WERE WATCHING. Desegregation in New Orleans, directed by Leacock.
ADVENTURES ON THE NEW FRONTIER. Focused on the 1960 presidential primary and
inauguration of JFK. This is probably a longer version of PRIMARY, filmed in
1961-2 ‘THE LIVING CAMERA’ series was produced by Robert Drew and
distributed for television by Time-Life. This series explored the lives of ten
people, utilizing the ‘direct cinema’, or ‘cinéma vérité’ style of
hand-held cameras and synch-sound. Leacock’s contribution included the
ON THE POLE (also known as ‘Eddie’): 55 min. Eddie Sachs driving the
Indianapolis 500. Co-produced and directed.
PETEY AND JOHNNY: 55 min. Teenage gangs in East Harlem. Produced by Leacock.
NEHRU: 55 min. His last campaign for election. Co-produced, directed, and shot
with Gregory Shuker.
THE CHAIR: 55 min. The last moment commutation of Paul Crump's death sentence. Co-produced,
directed, and photographed.
SUSAN STARR: 19 year-old pianist vies for Mitroupoulos prize. Filmed by a number
of cinematographers, including Leacock.
1963 CRISIS: BEHIND A PRESIDENTIAL COMMITMENT 58 min. President Kennedy's confrontation with Gov. George Wallace
1963 Formed Leacock Pennebaker Inc., making:
l963 HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY: 30 min. With Joyce Chopra. Mrs. Fisher bears
quintuplets in Aberdeen, S. Dakota.
1964 REPUBLICANS - THE NEW BREED: 30 min. The Goldwater Campaign, made with Noel
E. Parmentel Jr.
1965 A STRAVINSKY PORTRAIT: 55 min. Made with Rolf Liebermann. Sarah Hudson
1965 GEZA ANDA: 30 min. With Rolf Liebermann, a film on pianism. Sarah Hudson
1965 KU KLUX KLAN --- INVISIBLE EMPIRE: 50 min. Produced and written
by David Lowe for 'CBS Reports', sound by Noel
1966 PORTRAIT OF VAN CLIBURN: 54 min. Produced by Leacock and Pennebaker for
the Bell Telephone Hour. Cliburn visits Interlochen Music Camp where he
conducts an all-student orchestra, visits his childhood home in Shreveport, La.,
and is shown recording the Chopin B minor sonata, and other pieces.
1966 OH MEIN PA-PA! A portrait of Paul Burkhard: made with Rolf Liebermann.
Helga Feddersen recording sound.
1966 THE ANATOMY OF CINDY FINK: 20 min. A view of the art world made with
1966 OLD AGE, THE WASTED YEARS: Two 30 min. parts for WNET made with Nell Cox.
1966 Helped filming Pennebaker's MONTEREY POP!
1967 Film projections that were seen in Sarah Caldwell's productions of Berg's
Opera LULU, Berlioz's LES TROYENS and others, for The Opera Company of Boston.
1968 1-PM: 90 min. Pennebaker put together this material, gleaned from a film we
shot under the direction of Jean-Luc Godard which was to be 1-AM (one American
Movie, get it?) which he decided not to complete.
1968: TWO AMERICAN AUDIENCES: 40 min. With Pennebaker, an interview with
Jen-Luc Godard (GA)
1968 FRENCH LUNCH: Camera on Nell Cox's film
about the elaborate preparing of lunch the New York's La Caravelle Restaurant..
1968 HICKORY HILL: 18 min. With George Plimpton. A visit to a children's charity
pet-show at the home of Robert Kennedy.
1968 RAINFOREST: 27 min. With Pennebaker, filmed choreographer Merce
Cunningham’s dance “RainForest” as part of the 1968 Buffalo Arts Festival’s
program “Whose Afraid of the Avant-Garde” presenting experimental art, music,
dance, poetry and theater. The dance composition also featured music by John
Tudor, costumes by Jasper Johns and sets by Andy Warhol. (GA)
1969 Appointed Professor of Cinema at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
1969 CHIEFS: 18 min. With Noel E. Parmentel Jr. A convention of 3,500 American
Police Chiefs and their wives at Waikiki Beach, Hawaii.
1969 MAIDSTONE: Norman Mailer's film. One of several Cameras.
1970 COMPANY: 60 min. Pennebaker’s film of Original cast recording session for
Sondheim's musical hit. One of three cameras.
1970 QUEEN OF APOLLO: 20 min. With Elspeth Leacock. A 16 year old is Queen of a
Mardi Gras ball, in New Orleans.
1972 TREAD: 20 min. A direct camera view of a ballet by Merce Cunningham. By
Richard Leacock with Sandy D'Annunzio.
1972 VD: 26 min. Describes public health clinics and programs. Included is a segment that includes filmmaker Stan Brakhage describing a first-hand experience with NSU).
1977 ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER: 30 min. a tribute to the memory of the founder of
the Gardner Museum in Boston.
1978 CENTERBEAM: 20 min. A document of Documenta. John Ruben and Leacock film of
the Centerbeam art machine created by the Center for Advanced Visual Studies of
MIT, in Cissel, Germany.
1980 LIGHT COMING THROUGH: 20 min. A Portrait of Maud Morgan, painter.
1981 COMMUNITY OF PRAISE: 55 min. With Marisa Silver. A portrait of a
fundamentalist Christian family, in middle America. (I have a UMatic copy of the
original edit which I consider to be a far better film).
1984 LULU IN BERLIN 50 min. with Susan Woll. A conversation with Louise Brooks
(when she was 67) about her work with G.W.Pabst. With excerpts of her films.
1988 Leacock retired from MIT, came to Paris and started shooting on Video-8. He
met and started working with, Valerie Lalonde. They became fascinated with the
possibility of carrying this tiny, sensitive tool with them everywhere they
With Valerie Lalonde
photo by Pieter Vandermeer
1991 LES OEUFS A LA COQUE DE RICHARD LEACOCK: 84 min. video by Valerie Lalonde
and Richard Leacock, a lighthearted view of life in France.
1992 REHEARSAL: THE KILLINGS OF CARIOLA: 35 min. video by Valerie Lalonde and
Richard Leacock. Rehearsals of the Duchess of Malfi with the Cherub Company, in
1992 LES VACANCES DE MONSIEUR LEACOCK: 20 min. video by Valerie Lalonde &
Richard Leacock. Travels in the US of A.
1992 KREN: PARKING. 3 min. A portrait of an Art Work.
1993 "GOTT SEI DANK" EINE BESUCH BEI HELGA FEDDERSEN: 30 min.Leacock
visits his friend, the actress, a year before her death.
1993 FELIX ET JOSEPHINE: 33 min. a fiction based on a reality.
1993 HOORAY! WE'RE FIFTY! 1943-1993: 30 min. Leacock's Harvard 50th reunion.
1993 A CELEBRATION OF SAINT SILAS: 30 min. Preparation for and celebration of
the Heavenly Birthday of Saint Silas, with Him ! Twenty-seven Anglican Priests,
orchestra, solo trumpets, solo voices, ...
1994 A HOLE IN THE SEA: A lighthearted visit to both sides of the Channel as the
"Chunnel" was about to open. For Arte.
1996 A MUSICAL ADVENTURE IN SIBERIA: With Sarah Caldwell. The preparation of a
first ever performance of Prokofiev's Eugene Onegin, a Symphonic Drama (Actors
not singers) which was banned before it opened in 1937. With the Eketarinsburg
Symphony orchestra conducted by Sarah Caldwell, Artistic director of the Opera
Company of Boston (videoed in mini digital).