Murray Lerner, Who Filmed Music’s Biggest Stars, Dies at 90

His first feature-length documentary was an underwater film called “Secrets of the Reef,” which he directed with Lloyd Ritter and Robert M. Young in 1956. But it was his decision to document the Newport Folk Festival in 1963 that proved pivotal.

He would return to that event for the next three years, coming away with hours of film of Mr. Dylan, Joan Baez, Mississippi John Hurt, Johnny Cash, Donovan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and more.


The blue musician Mississippi John Hurt performing at the Newport Folk Festival in the early 1960s in Murray Lerner’s film “Festival,” released in 1967.

Criterion Collection-Janus Films

His first documentary made from that footage, “Festival,” came out in 1967. The images shot by Mr. Lerner have become an important archival trove, capturing a cultural moment, and the film was nominated for an Oscar.

(One critic, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times, however, was put off by the mumbling and inarticulateness of both performers and audience members in “Festival.” “ You know’ is constantly interjected, even in the middle of sentences, to cover or even dismiss an inadequately clarified thought,” he wrote in his review. “However, it is in their music that these people express themselves, and I suppose the music is thoroughly adequate.”)

Forty years after making “Festival,” Mr. Lerner drew on the same material to tease out one particular story line in “The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival.” That film drew on three years’ worth of Mr. Dylan’s performances, including the one in 1965, in which he played an electric guitar, a development that may or may not have led the audience to boo (depending on whom you ask). But the film inarguably conveyed why Mr. Dylan mattered so much, then and now.

“It’s a remarkably pure and powerful documentary, partly because it’s so simple,” A. O. Scott wrote in his review in The Times. “The sound mix is crisp, the black-and-white photography is lovely, and the songs, above all, can be heard in all their earnest, enigmatic glory.”

Bob Dylan – Live at the Newport Folk Festival Video by BobDylanTV

Mr. Lerner also made a series of documentaries from film he shot at the Isle of Wight Festival, off the south coast of England, in 1970, a year when that event had a particularly starry lineup and drew hundreds of…

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