R.I.P. Les Blank

The documentary filmmaker Les Blank died today of bladder cancer. Here is an obituary.

My favorite of Les Blank’s films is Burden of Dreams, about the making of Werner Herzog’s movie Fitzcarraldo. It’s the story of an obsessed man making a movie about another obsessed man. It’s worth seeing even if you’ve never seen *Fitzcarraldo *(or even if you hate Werner Herzog). The movie Hearts of Darkness, a better-known documentary about the making of a better-known movie, really owes something to Burden of Dreams.

One reason I’ve felt a connection with Les Blank is that his offices are (were?) in my home town of El Cerrito, in the same building with Down Home Music and Arhoolie Records. Blank collaborated with Arhoolie founder Chris Strachwitz on a few movies. I met Mr. Blank once, at a screening of All in This Tea. I found him to be very quiet and modest.

Les Blank’s death won’t get much national attention. Small documentary filmmakers rarely become famous. But if you are interested in creative people who work outside of the mainstream in areas like film, music and food, you might want to check out his work. Many of his movies are about creative people who operate outside of the mainstream. In other words, he made movies about people like himself.

RIP Les.

Burden of Dreams rocks. It’s arguably a much better film than Fitzcarraldo, and I love Fitzcarraldo.

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe is another favorite of mine.

I understand John Donne better every day lately. :frowning:

I’d like to see the work Blank and Strachwitz did together. I once heard Chris give a presentation about Tejano music in the 40s and 50s, and he combined knowledge, enthusiasm and heart in a way few scholars do. I came away feeling like I knew the people who made the music.

Strachwitz produced Chulas Fronteras (about Mexican-American border music), and produced and co-directed J’ai été au bal (about Cajun and Zydeco music). He assisted with sound on Gap-Toothed Women and with sound and camera work on Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, acted as an advisor on A Well Spent Life, and did voice work on Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.

I’m pretty sure you can buy these movies from Down Home Music (Strachwitz’s store). They do mail order.

I disagree that BoD is better than Fitzcarraldo, but I’m incredibly biased since Fitzcarraldo is one of my All-Time Favorite films. But that is, of course, why I love Burden of Dreams so much. I can’t imagine watching one without being closely followed by the other.

RIP Les. You made a helluva wonderful documentary about a helluva wonderful movie.

(Btw, I’m not sure, but I think I first heard of BoD on Siskel & Ebert. What a sad week for movies.)

Yeah, that’s how I watch them too: Fitzcarraldo then Burden of Dreams as a back-to-back double feature.

Equipoise, you clearly have excellent taste in films and a keen sense of drama!

Not much to add that Jeff Lichtman and Equipoise didn’t already cover. Blank was ubiquitous in the SF Bay Area and many of his food documentaries cover local eats and events. I had met him too a few times and he was always very warm, ingratiating, and soft-spoken, but highly articulate about his passions.

For my money, Burden is in my top 5 documentaries of all time, and makes Fitzcarraldo look better (in an insane sorta way) than it really is. A towering achievement about artistic madness because Herzog really sounds nuts in the jungle (Coppola in Hearts just sounds really really stressed), and Kinski only ups the ante.

His short films are charming, idiosyncratic cultural immersions and a lot of fun. He may not be a household name, but he is undeniably a legend in the non-fiction community and will be sorely missed. RIP.

From SFGate:

The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcVbNaiBZCU

Chulas Fronteras: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eKVv46T_fI

*J’ai Été Au Bal (I Went to the Ball) * http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brHWkcWphdk

YouTube has more excerpts of his films; buy them here.

I started my thread after an unsuccessful search; glad my post has been added to this one.

Checkthe Arhoolie site for some of the DVD’s; I didn’t give a direct link because I want to encourage browsing among the riches.

This is the best source for his films. Amazon has some of them–at ridiculous prices.

Some of the best-spent times of my misspent youth involved hearing Lightnin’, Mance Lipscomb & Clifton Chenier, here in Houston. Blank’s films give a taste of those days…

My fave Blank films are The Blues According to Lightnin Hopkins and Always for Pleasure. Love Burden of Dreams. Hot Pepper is right up there too. Great filmmaker.

He made a doc in Leon Russell’s studio with a bunch of heavy hitters playing. Story goes (I think) Leon got pissed and has refused to let Blank release the film. Blank had a release to show the film personally at special screenings. It has been screened only a handful of times. As Leon is one of my favorite musicians, I would kill to see that doc.