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Charlotte Zwerin: 1931-2004
Charlotte Zwerin

Born: 1931 in Detroit, Michigan
Died: January 22, 2004 in New York, New York

Documentary filmmaker (Monk, Ella, Stones, Frost)

by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins

Filmmaker Charlotte Zwerin, who documented the lives and work of Thelonious Monk, Arshile Gorky, the Rolling Stones, Robert Frost and other artists, died of lung cancer on January 22, 2004, at the age of 72. She was the ex-wife of trombonist and jazz writer Mike Zwerin.

Born Charlotte Mitchell in Detroit, Michigan, the youngest of five children, she became interested in documentary filmmaking while attending Wayne State University in the early 1950s. She initially filmed operations in progress at the University's medical school, then went to New York City to pursue a full-time career as a filmmaker. She was hired as a film librarian at CBS, became a TV editor, and eventually founded her own production company. Zwerin specialized in documenting the lives and works of visual and performing artists.

One of Zwerin's earliest successful documentaries was "Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World", filmed in 1963. It won an Academy Award and confirmed to Zwerin that she had made the right choice. Subsequent projects included documentaries on Gorky, Ella Fitzgerald, Willem de Kooning, Isamu Noguchi, and Toru Takemitsu.

Zwerin was a master of cinema verité, film geared towards extreme realism. "Gimme Shelter", Zwerin's controversial 1970 film of the Rolling Stones' performance at Altamont, is notorious for its capture of a murder. A black man in the crowd was stabbed to death by a Hell's Angel who was acting as a security guard for the event. One of her finest later works was 1989's "Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser", a loving but honest portrayal of the troubled pianist/composer. Her works are regularly studied in film schools around the world.

Zwerin's survivors include her sister Margaret Tesone of White Lake Township, Michigan; brother Charles Mitchell of Royal Oak, Michigan; and niece Jackie Mitchell of Livonia, Michigan.

Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.


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