The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 13, 2016 by  


An intimate portrayal not typical of documentaries of its time, “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” will be remembered for its groundbreaking documentary style and filmmaking.  And is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © Drew Associates Inc. 2016 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808

YEAR OF FILM: Primary (1960), Adventures of the New Frontier (1961), Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963), Faces of November (1964)

DURATION: Primary (53 Minutes), Adventures of the New Frontier (52 Minutes), Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (53 Minutes), Faces of November (12 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, Monaural LPCM 1.0


RELEASE DATE: April 26, 2016

Primary (1960)

Directed by Robert Drew

Written by Robert Drew

Produced by Robert Drew

Cinematography by Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles

Adventures on the New Frontier (1961)

Directed by Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker, Kenneth Stilson

Executive Produced by Robert Drew

Produced by Bo Goldman

Edited by Robert Farren, Peggy Lawson, Larry Moyer, Anita Posner

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)

Directed by Robert Drew

Executive Producer: Robert Drew

Producer: Gregory Shuker

Faces of November (1964)

Directed by Robert Drew


Primary (1961)

Robert Drew

Hubert H. Humphrey

Joseph Julian as Narrator (voice)

Jacqueline Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

Adventures on the New Frontier (1961)

McGeorge Bundy

Paul B. Fay Jr.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Arthur Goldberg

Richard Goodwin

Albert Gore Sr.

Walter W. Heller

Hubert H. Humphrey

Joseph Julian

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Jacqueline Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

Evelyn Lincoln

John J. McCloy

Kenneth P. O’Donnell

Pierre Salinger

Haile Selassie

Theodore Sorensen

John Steinbeck

Gerhard Mennen Williams

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)

John F. Kennedy

George Wallace

Robert F. Kennedy

Vivian Malone 

James Hood

Michael LeMoyne Kennedy

Burke Marshall

Nicholas Katzenbach

John Dore

Jack Greenberg

Creighton Williams Abrams

Kerry Kennedy

Peyton Norville

Henry Graham

Dave McGlathery

James Lipcomb (Narrator)

Faces of November (1964)

Lyndon Johnson

Caroline Kennedy

John Kennedy Jr.

Peter Lawford

Seeking to invigorate the American documentary format, which he felt was rote and uninspired, Robert Drew brought the style and vibrancy he had fostered as a Life magazine correspondent to filmmaking in the late fifties. He did this by assembling an amazing team—including such eventual nonfiction luminaries as Richard Leacock, D. A. Pennebaker, and Albert Maysles—that would transform documentary cinema. In 1960, the group was granted direct access to John F. Kennedy, filming him on the campaign trail and eventually in the Oval Office. This resulted in three films of remarkable, behind-closed-doors intimacy—Primary, Adventures on the New Frontier, and Crisis—and, following the president’s assassination, the poetic short Faces of November. Collected here are all four of these titles, early exemplars of the movement known as Direct Cinema and featuring the greatest close-up footage we have of this American icon.


When it comes to American documentaries, Robert Lincoln Drew is considered a pioneer of the genre.

Also called the father of “cinema verite” (a.k.a. “Direct Cinema”), Drew said in a 1962 interview that he wanted to create “a form of documentary that would ‘drop word logic and find a dramatic logic in which things really happened’.  It would be ‘a theater without actors; it would be plays without playwrights; it would be reporting without summary and opinion; it would be the ability to look in on people’s lives at crucial times from which you could deduce certain things and see a kind of truth that can only be gotten from personal experience.”

Drew would recruit filmmakers with the same view to crew Drew Associates” which included filmmakers Richard Leacock (“Queen of Apollo”, “A Stravinsky Portrait”, “Lulu in Berlin”), D.A. Pennebaker (“Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back”, “The War Room”, “Monterey Pop”), Terence Macartney-Filgate (“Lewis Mumford on the City”, “Blood and Fire”, “Vladimir Nabokov”) and Albert Maysles (“Grey Gardens”, “Gimme Shelter”, “Salesman”).

Among Robert Drew and his associates most famous works were focused on President John F. Kennedy and the Criterion Collection will bring four of his films on Blu-ray titled “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates”.

The first is titled “Primary” and is a 1960 Direct Cinema documentary film about the Wisconsin primary election between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey for the United States Democratic Party nomination for the President of the United States.  The film was directed by Robert Drew and shot by Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles and edited by D.A. Pennebaker.

This documentary was seen as a major breakthrough in documentary film style as it gave viewers much more intimacy thanks to the use of mobile cameras and lighter sound equipment.

And the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1990 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The second documentary featured is “Adventures on the New Frontier” which gave a rare and candid glimpse inside the Oval Office and follows John F. Kennedy on his daily work routine.  The film was aired on ABC television as part of its “Close-Up!” series in 1961.

The third documentary “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment” centered on the University of Alabama’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” integration crisis and focused on President John F. Kennedy, attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, Alabama governor George Wallace, deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach and students Vivian Malone and James Hood.  Wallace would do what he can to block the two black students from enrolling in the university, while the JFK administration discusses on the best way to react to Wallace’s promise.  The documentary was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress” in 2011 as it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The fourth documentary is “Faces of November” and is a 12-minute short film covering the Kennedy’s state funeral and capturing the family mourning but also the many people mourning the death of JFK.


“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” is presented in 1:33:1 aspect ratio in black and white and presented in 1080p High Definition. The film looks amazing as the picture quality is well-contrast in some footage, but with different film sources, picture quality differs from scene-to-scene.  But for the most part, black levels are nice and deep, white and grays are sharp and the film looks fantastic in HD!

According to the Criterion Collection, “this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Scanity film scanner.  ‘Primary’ and ‘Cris’ were created from Academy Film Archive – preserved 16mm fine-grain positives; ‘Adventures on the New Frontier’ from an Academy Film Archive – preserved 16 mm fine-grain positive; and ‘Faces of November’ from the original 16mm A/B camera negative.  Preservation of the three Academy Film Archive fine-grain positives was done by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in collaboration with The Film Foundation.  2K digital restoration was undertaken by the Criterion Collection.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, jitter and flicker.”


As for the lossless audio, “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” is presented in English monaural LPCM 1.0.  Dialogue is clear without any buzzing, hiss or crackle.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit.  ‘Primary’ was remastered from a 16mm magnetic track; ‘Adventures of the New Frontier’ from a 16mm optical soundtrack print; ‘Faces of November’ from a 35mm optical soundtrack print; and ‘Crisis’ from the original 35mm soundtrack negative.  Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX 4”.

Subtitles are in English SDH.


“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” comes with the following special features:

  • Robert Drew in His Own Words – (34:13) Featuring multiple interviews with filmmaker Robert Drew to present a portrait of the man who conceived a new way of creating nonfiction cinema, then marshaled an amazing array of talent to realize his vision.
  • Jill Drew and D.A. Pennebaker – (26:22) Drew Associates general manager Jill Drew interviews D.A. Pennebaker and his working relationship with Robert Drew and the joys and challenges of filming the President of the United States.
  • Andrew Cohen on Crisis and Its Outtakes– (46:24) Historian Andrew Cohen, author of “Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History” discusses what was and what was not included in the film.
  • Sharon Malone and Eric Holder – (26:16) Sharon Malone, sister of Vivian Malone (the female student in “Crisis”) and her husband, former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, discuss the film and her sister’s place in history.
  • Richard Reeves – (27:13) Historian Richard Reeves, author of “President Kennedy: Profile of Power” discusses JFK’s primary campaign and the inner workings of his White House.
  • Drew Associates at the Museum of Tolerance – (26:41) In October 1998, at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences premiered restorations of Drew Associates’ Kennedy films.


“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” comes with a 28-page booklet with the essay “Capturing the Kennedys” by Thom Powers.


The Criterion Collection is best known for their dedication in bringing out titles to the masses, films which are important classic and contemporary films.

“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” is a collection of several films by American documentarian Robert Drew and his fellow filmmakers who had their own respective careers in filmmaking: Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker and Kenneth Stilson.

Robert Drew is looked at as the pioneer for Cinema Verite and his crew were known for bringing an intimacy towards its subjects that has never before been seen in a non-fiction film.

In “Primary”, viewers get to see the behind-the-scenes Democratic primary between John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey; “Adventures on a New Frontier” featuring a day-in-the-life of President John F. Kennedy in the oval office; “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment” which prominently features President JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy as we see the strategy of Governor George Wallace trying to prevent two Black students from getting an education at the University of Alabama and RFK and staff doing what they can to counter him.  It’s quite fascinating to watch the two differing perspectives.

For “Faces of November”, the video is short footage capturing family and friends of the Kennedy’s and the many people (of all ages, of all races) who are mourning President Kennedy.

The collection of these four films are no doubt early examples of Direct Cinema but the significance of what Robert Drew and his crew were able to accomplish was magnificent.  And to know that the other talents who were part of Drew Associates, would go on to create big things for their own respective careers.

Leacock, Maysles, Pennebaker and Stilson were documentary legends in their own right and people love and respect their work in the present.

The Blu-ray release features very good picture quality, despite the difference of scenes showing better clarity.  The monaural LPCM 1.0 soundtrack is clear with no signs of hiss.  And special features are captivating as Criterion Collection did a remarkable job in paying tribute to Robert Drew and his associates.

As a person who is fascinated by John F. Kennedy’s life and presidency, it’s great to see a collection that pays tribute to the legendary filmmaker Robert Drew, his crew of talented filmmakers but most of all bringing together these four Kennedy films to a new generation of audiences who may be familiar with John F. Kennedy but want to see these politicians in their true natural state.

An intimate portrayal not typical of documentaries of its time, “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” will be remembered for its groundbreaking documentary style and filmmaking.  And is highly recommended!

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