"PRIMARY" (1960 Documentary Film)
Directed & Written by Robert Drew
DVD Released on November 11, 2003
(New Video Group)
DVD Back Cover


Robert Drew's "PRIMARY" (1960) is a fascinating "You Are There" film, as we follow "Campaign '60" Presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey all across the state of Wisconsin as the two White House hopefuls wield their all-too-apparent campaign skills during a series of wet and gloomy days just prior to the Wisconsin Presidential Primary.

Watching this documentary film so many years after it was made enables the viewer to vividly re-capture the feeling, essence, and "flavor" of an era that long ago drifted into history, but was caught and frozen in time, thanks to Mr. Drew's probing camera lens.

Drew's camera is very often literally right smack in the face of the candidates as they chat with ordinary folk on the small-town streets, while shaking too many hands to count, trying to woo voters.

The "sync sound" camera utilized by Mr. Drew (and crew) was innovative for its time, giving the viewer the ability to hear, as well as see, the candidates up close and personal. Although, it appears the limited success of this "new-fangled" sync-sound technology is evident throughout this 53-minute black-and-white "Cinema Verite" production, with several portions of the film's "Live sound" not exactly meshing perfectly with the lips we see moving on screen.

Occasionally, the sound is a few beats behind the video being shot. But, considering the newness of this type of "Live" filming of subjects, I'd say it was an excellent job done by the Robert Drew team of filmmakers.

Off-screen narration is kept to a minimum during the film, with the emphasis obviously being on letting the camera run and letting whatever happens...happen.

There's even a "scene" in the film where JFK's brother, Robert F. Kennedy, shows up "on the stump", helping out with his brother's efforts in this very important Primary.

We're also treated to a very funny moment as RFK is being introduced to the waiting crowd of Kennedy supporters, when the person responsible for Bobby's intro announces him as "John Kennedy's son"! This gaffe elicited a nice roar of laughter from the crowd, plus (due to Mr. Drew's ever-present live microphone being focused on Jack Kennedy throughout the shoot), we hear JFK's spontaneously-funny response. "Son???", utters JFK, seemingly taken aback (but in his usual charming and witty way) by the announcer's honest error.

Video quality here is not exactly perfect. Grain and "noise" are present throughout, but it's certainly not terrible-looking either. Keeping in mind the decades-old age of this film, I'd say this is a very nice DVD representation of the original material (probably pretty close to what it looked like in its original state in 1960).

This DVD (part of "The Robert Drew Collection" of programs on Digital Disc) contains some nice bonus features, in addition to the excellent nearly hour-long main program. "Primary Originators" was taped in (mostly) 2000 and features members of Drew's "team" discussing and commenting on "Primary" and various other filmmaking subjects. The beginning of this feature also shows some clips of Robert Drew, circa 1962. The running time for this bonus is 27 minutes.

And then there's "30/15" (meaning: "30 Years In 15 Minutes"), a 1993-produced fifteen-minute short film, which features highlights of various Robert Drew films.

There's also a commentary track with Mr. Drew and one of his photographers, Richard Leacock.

Some informative text screens are included on the DVD as well, giving us some background info on Robert Drew.

This DVD's Menus are easily navigated and very simple in nature, without musical or animated transitions. Nice menu structure, IMO.

If you ever feel like stepping into a time machine marked "early 1960", then save yourself the expense of building one and just pop in this program. It will immediately transport anyone back to the "Good Ol' Days" of nineteen hundred & sixty, when a yet-to-turn-43-year-old Senator from Massachusetts named Jack Kennedy was near the beginning of his arduous and hard-fought struggle for the Presidency....a struggle which would (seven months after this film was produced) prove to be a successful one for JFK, landing him in the White House as the 35th President of the United States.

"Primary" is a trip down memory lane well worth taking.

David Von Pein
December 2003



The 1960 Election