Last month I interviewed legendary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker about the upgraded Criterion Collection edition of his Bob Dylan documentary, Dont (sic) Look Back. Pennebaker worked on many varied music documentaries throughout the years, including Lambert, Hendricks & Co, the Monterey Pop Festival, David Bowie’s farewell Ziggy performance, Depeche Mode, and beyond.
In May, 1966, he filmed John Lennon driving around London with Dylan in the unreleased documentary, Eat the Document. In 1969, Pennebaker captured Lennon’s first non-Beatles concert appearance, with the Plastic Ono Band, in Sweet Toronto. He was also filmed by Lennon and Yoko Ono, and can be seen in their film, Up Your Legs Forever. As a side note to my questions about filming Dylan, I asked Pennebaker about working with Lennon.
I knew John, and when he came to New York, I saw him quite often, actually. ‘Cause he wanted to make films with Yoko, and he had me pose for him in some of the films there. (Laughs) I was pretty active in a couple of them.
(I wish) I could have filmed him more. I could have done more with him, because he was such an interesting person (sigh).
You know, he was a different person (in the 1970s) … He was kind of, I don’t know … I worried about him. I thought he was having some problems in his head. He wasn’t the same wild person we knew and loved in London. I didn’t know him that well, I didn’t spend that much time with him, so when he was shot, I was really quite … (pause) … That was the end of him, and I never … and I felt, well, I messed up on that.
Pennebaker wrote about filming the Lennons in Keep on Rockin’/Sweet Toronto on his website:
When the fearsome foursome of rock music, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis, decided to show up in Toronto for a rock and roll festival, I knew we had to go there to try to get them all on film. This could be the musical event of the millennium, which in 1969 still had a ways to go. Even as we were figuring out how to raise money to do it, John Lennon was thinking the same way, and, little did we know, was planning to show up himself, along with Yoko Ono, Eric Clapton and the newly created: Plastic Ono Band.
The Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival was fantastic and we filmed everybody that moved and recorded a lot of great music, but it was really the four rockers we were after. And The Plastic Ono Band was just something that flew in out of the blue. Their performance was one of the most dramatic endings I’d ever seen at any concert, and I knew it ended something but I wasn’t sure what.
When the film was rough cut, John Lennon called and asked could he see it. So I flew to London, got a projector and drove to Ascot for our first audience: The Lennons. We all ended up in their bedroom because that was the only room with a white wall to project on. Sitting there on the floor watching that music come to life, I could feel John getting more and more into it. He was excitedly telling Yoko all about the performances of his heroes like you would with your high school yearbook. Suddenly I was inspired to rent Carnegie Hall and screen it there as a Christmas show, which I did with. . . stereo interlock sound. The hall was filled twice, with a standup crowd. It was a filmmaker’s dream. We called it “Sweet Toronto” until one day Janis Joplin came by to see it and right in the middle of Chuck Berry she yelled out, “Keep on rockin!” So we used that for the title for another version of the film but without Lennon and Yoko.
Of the dozens of Dylan Internet sites … Expecting Rain … and the byteclay.com Bob Dylan blog by Harold Lepidus are the best places for up-to-the-minute Dylan news – David Kinney, “The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob.” (Simon & Schuster, 2014)
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