Monday, April 8, 2013

In Memoriam: Les Blank (1935-2013)


Les Blank, a fascinating individual and director of some remarkably personal documentaries passed away yesterday. I hardly have anything to say about him, at least worthy of his long and adventurous career, since I knew his ouvre only sporadically. However, I hope the stream of obituaries following his death would serve the purpose of shedding light on the career of  the man "whose sly, sensuous and lyrical documentaries about regional music and a host of other idiosyncratic subjects, including Mardi Gras, gaptoothed women, garlic and the filmmaker Werner Herzog, were widely admired by critics and other filmmakers if not widely known by moviegoers."

Here, I'll draw your attention to one of Blank's very early films, which happens to be one of the best jazz films produced under the umbrella of independent, ciné-vérité movement of the 1960s. Les Blank made many films about music, including The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins (1968), of course if one doesn't mention incorporating jazz and blues music in his non-musical films. During five tireless decades of film-making, the portrait of Dizzy Gillespie stands out as probably one of Blank's most accomplished cinematographic discovery of music and musical ideas.

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