One of America’s preeminent independent documentary filmmakers, Les Blank (1935–2013) was a stalwart of do-it-yourself cinema. With his trusty 16mm camera by his side, he took pride in photographing some of life’s finer moments: Cajun cooking, jazz, the blues, handmade tea, and poetry. Blank’s style, characterized by brilliant handheld camerawork and a loving eye for his material, can be best described as a form of handicraft. Incredibly modest, Blank traveled to screenings with a well-worn suitcase, setting up an impromptu merchandise table with DVDs, buttons, and t-shirts, exuding a down-to-earth approach to the “business” side of filmmaking.
A visual anthropologist, Blank was dedicated to capturing some of the country’s traditions and lifestyles on the verge of extinction. He constantly traveled off the beaten path, creating work like nothing anyone had seen before. A fan of “bottomless” films, Blank captured the essence of his subjects, his films flowing organically and unfurling in a non-linear fashion. In a world of stifling, prescriptive talking-head documentaries, the films of Les Blank offer a refreshing alternative. It is with great pleasure that we commemorate the achievements of this artist whose work still exists in relative obscurity. Please note, Blank’s son, filmmaker Harrod Blank, will join us for a discussion following Burden of Dreams.
Tuesday, May 6, 8 p.m.
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe and Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers
(Les Blank and Maureen Gosling, US 1979, 22 min., 16mm)
(Les Blank, US 1980, 51 min., 16mm)
Tuesday, May 13, 8 p.m.
Burden of Dreams
(Les Blank, US 1980, 95 min., 16mm)
Tuesday, May 20, 8 p.m.
All in This Tea
(Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht, US 2007, 70 min., Digibeta)
Tuesday, May 27, 8 p.m.
Dizzy Gillespie, The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins and A Well Spent Life
(Les Blank, US 1964, 22 min., 16mm)
(Les Blank, US 1968, 31 min., 16mm)
(Les Blank and Skip Gerson, US 1971, 44 min., 16mm)