Les Blank

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Les Blank
Les Blank.jpg
Blank at 43rd KVIFF in 2008
Born November 27, 1935
Tampa, Florida
Died April 7, 2013(2013-04-07) (aged 77)
Berkeley Hills
Nationality American
Alma mater Tulane University
University of Southern California
Occupation Documentary filmmaker

Les Blank (November 27, 1935 – April 7, 2013) was an American documentary filmmaker best known for his portraits of American traditional musicians.

Life and career[edit]

Blank attended Phillips Academy Andover, Tulane University in New Orleans, where he received a B.A. in English literature and an M.F.A. in theater. He also studied communications at the University of Southern California.[1][2] Following his university education, he worked for a production company called Operation Success, making films that he would later describe as "insipid films that promote business and industry." He founded his own production company, Flower Films, in 1967 with the release of God Respects Us When We Work But Loves Us When We Dance, a short colorful document of Los Angeles' Elysian Park Love-in. This was followed by The Blues Accordin' To Lightnin' Hopkins (1968) and The Sun's Gonna Shine (1968) about Houston blues musician Sam Lightnin' Hopkins. He never went back to work making industrial films and all of his films were independently produced, often with the assistance of grants from cultural agencies, both governmental and non-governmental.

Most of his films focused on American traditional music forms, including (among others) blues, Appalachian, Cajun, Creole, Tex-Mex, polka, tamburitza, and Hawaiian music. Many of these films represent the only filmed documents of musicians who are now deceased.

Blank's films focusing on musical subjects often spent much of their running time focusing not on the music itself but on the music's cultural context, portraying the surroundings from which these American roots musics come.

Other notable films on non-musical subjects include a film about garlic and another about gap-toothed women, as well as two films about German film director Werner Herzog: Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980) and Burden of Dreams (1982), the latter about the filming of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. The Maestro; King of The Cowboy Artists (1995) and Sworn To The Drum (1995) were Blank's last two films using 16mm film. He later worked in digital video. His last film, All In This Tea, which was co-directed by Gina Leibrecht, was a profile of the western Marin County-based tea importer and adventurer David Lee Hoffman. In 2007 Blank was awarded the prestigious Edward MacDowell Medal in the Arts.

Les's son, Harrod Blank, has also become a documentary filmmaker.

Blank lived in the Berkeley Hills. His company, Flower Films, is based in El Cerrito, Contra Costa County, California. Blank died of bladder cancer at his Berkeley Hills home on April 7, 2013.[3]

Legacy[edit]

Two months prior to Blank's death, the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival announced that Blank had accepted to receive its 2013 Outstanding Achievement Award along with a retrospective of his work at the festival, which took place from April 25 to May 5, 2013.[4]

Filmography[edit]

  • 1960 - Running Around Like A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off
  • 1960–1985 - Six Short Films of Les Blank
  • 1961, 1962 - Strike! & And Freedom Came!?
  • 1965 - Dizzy Gillespie
  • 1967 - Christopher Tree
  • 1968 - God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance
  • 1969 - The Arch
  • 1969 - The Sun's Gonna Shine
  • 1969 or 1970 - The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins
  • 1970 - Chicken Real
  • 1971 - Spend It All
  • 1971 - A Well Spent Life
  • 1973 - Dry Wood
  • 1973 - Hot Pepper
  • 1974 - A Poem Is A Naked Person
  • 1976 - Chulas Fronteras
  • 1978 - Always for Pleasure
  • 1979 - Del Mero Corazon
  • 1979 or 1980 - Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe
  • 1980 - Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers
  • 1982 - Burden of Dreams
  • 1983 - Sprout Wings and Fly
  • 1984 - In Heaven There Is No Beer?
  • 1985 - Cigarette Blues
  • 1985 - Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella
  • 1986 - Huey Lewis And The News: Be-Fore!
  • 1987 - Gap-Toothed Women
  • 1987 - Ziveli! Medicine for the Heart
  • 1988 - A Blank Buffet
  • 1988 - Ry Cooder And The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces
  • 1989 - The Best of Blank
  • 1989 - J'ai Été Au Bal / I Went to the Dance
  • 1990 - Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking
  • 1991 - Innocents Abroad
  • 1991 - Julie: Old Time Tales of the Blue Ridge
  • 1991 - Marc & Ann
  • 1991 - Puamana
  • 1994 - The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists
  • 1994 - My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge
  • 1994 - Roots of Rhythm (cinematographer)
  • 2007 - All In This Tea (co-directed with Gina Leibrecht)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Notable Alumni, USC School of Cinematic Arts.
  2. ^ About this Person: Les Blank, Allmovie, NY Times.
  3. ^ Whiting, Sam (April 7, 2013). "Documentary filmmaker Les Blank, 77, dies". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  4. ^ Benzine, Adam (5 February 2013). "Hot Docs to honour Blank". Playback (Brunico Communications). Retrieved 8 April 2013. 

External links[edit]