Pennebaker and Depeche Mode

Stop the tape – RIP D A Pennebaker, master director behind Depeche Mode’s 101

Documentary filmmaker D A Pennebaker died this weekend at the age of 94.

A remarkable career saw US-born Pennebaker tackle subjects as diverse as music, culture and politics – often at the same time.

Such was his eye (and ear) for understanding movements involving people and their intersection with arts and societal changes, such as the so-called Sixties Counterculture, he was able to blend them into important pieces of art in their own right.

His catalogue includes iconic pieces made with Bob Dylan (Don’t Look Back) and David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars) and the Monterey Festival as well as films documenting Bill Clinton’s presidential race in the early-1990s, animal protection, the environment and women’s rights.

For fans of Depeche Mode, Pennebaker (or “Penny”) is a pivotal figure in the history of the band, having worked alongside his wife Chris Hegedus to create the 101 movie, released in March 1989.

Recorded in the latter stages of the Music For The Masses Tour in the summer of 1988, 101 is a signature Pennebaker movie (and one of his favourites, he has said on many occasions).

He blended live performance and backstage shenanigans from a string of gigs in the US with what was essentially a cross-country road trip involving a group of fans from the East Coast.

The culmination of the trip and tour, of course, was the 101st gig at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in California.

The mastery of Pennebaker, honed over the 25 years prior to 101, was his ability to capture “moments” that encompass music and extraordinary live performance with elation, stupidity, hilarity, melancholy, greed and joy in conversation and behaviour.

101 would be a brilliant gig film in its own right. Conversely, 101 would be a curious, reality movie-style look at fans of alternative music and culture in the twilight years of Reagan’s America.

Put the two together and you get something better; something perhaps more important, about both the band and it’s fans.

Much has been said over the years about the impact of 101. It means different things to different people, of course.

For a 17-year-old fan living in the UK in 1989, 101 was a snapshot of a world that I didn’t really understand,

Young people in America, smalltown America itself, corporate America, American media and, of course, just how damn big Depeche Mode had become there.

It’s become a vital piece of work and, unlike many music-related films over the years, has aged extremely well.

Fortunately for fans of Depeche Mode and general admirers of his work, Pennebaker and Hegedus have talked extensively over the years about their time working on the movie (see below) and other projects.

Depeche Mode, those that have worked with them for decades behind the scenes and fans will mourn the passing of Pennebaker this weekend.

But they and admirers of his other works will know that fans of all music and scholars of culture have benefited enormously from his time behind the camera.

RIP.

***

Pennebaker, Hegedus and Depeche Mode talk for a BBC2 programme about 101, in 1989:

Q&A with Pennebaker, Hegedus and Andy Fletcher in London, following the re-release screening, in 2003:

Q&A with Pennebaker, Hegedus and some of the Kids On The Bus, in  2014:

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