Aesthete and Documentarian Turns 80

MILESTONE. Jørgen Leth is a singular figure in Danish documentary film. The filmmaker and renaissance man turns 80 on 14 June.

defembenspænd

CLASSIC. In "The Five Obstructions," Lars von Trier challenges his mentor Jørgen Leth to recreate scenes from Leth's pivotal "The Perfect Human" (1968).

"Curiosity and a sense of beauty drive Leth's films. With admirable, dogged consistency he has cultivated his fascination with surfaces," a Danish film critic writes about Jørgen Leth and his prodigious output that makes him a key figure in Danish documentary film.

Filmmaker, journalist, author and cycling commentator Jørgen Leth, who is celebrating his 80th birthday on 14 June, has racked up a good half hundred film titles in countless genres and formats since the early sixties.

Making his directorial debut in 1963 with "Stop for Bud," a portrait of jazz pianist Bud Powell, Leth went on to become a pivotal figure in the experimental film community in the sixties.

He gained an international audience with his films on the mythology of bicycle racing – "Stars and Waters Carriers" (1974), about the Giro d'Italia stage race, and "A Sunday in Hell" (1977), about the Paris-Roubaix spring classic. Leth's love of cycling later led to his multi-year tenure as a sportscaster announcing the Tour de France for national broadcaster TV 2.

Leth's range as a filmmaker is seen in the variety of his themes and filmic devices – from experimental investigations of everyday life, in "Life in Denmark" (1972) and "66 Scenes from America" (1982), to poetic portraits of artists, including "Dancing Bournonville" (1979), "I Am Alive" (1999) and "I Am Talking to You" (2013), and anthropological studies like "The Perfect Human" (1968), "Moments of Play" (1986) and "Erotic Man" (2010).

With Lars von Trier, Leth made "The Five Obstructions" (2003), a film project challenging Leth to do five remakes of his 1968 classic "The Perfect Human." Apart from documentaries, Leth has also directed fiction films, notably "Haïti Express" (1983).

Meanwhile, Jørgen Leth the personality remains in hot demand. He sometimes appears as himself in films, including the comedy "Klown" (2010). He has recorded several albums with the two young musicians in his trio Vi sidder bare her (We're Just Sitting Here), and his iconic voice is a sought-after commodity for narrating other people's films. On a curious note, Leth recently recorded the station announcements for a new rail line in his native city of Aarhus.

In addition, Leth is the author of a numerous essays and memoirs.


Andy Warhol Eating a Hamburger 

From 66 Scenes from America (1982)

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