A Poem is a Naked Person (1974, Les Blank)

I’d heard Les Blank was a quirky dude but I’d only previously seen his Werner Herzog documentaries, and Herzog is a quirky dude himself, so it took watching a doc about an artist I’ve barely heard of for me to recognize Blank as a great filmmaker. It’s not even that he’s great, necessarily, it’s that after watching my share of rock docs, I appreciate his technique. He kicks off by interviewing random locals instead of someone actually close to Leon, takes weird edits out of songs, subtitles hard-to-hear lines in a fancypants font, and keeps himself constantly occupied when the actual subjects of his film aren’t pulling their weight. As the great philosophers in Chumbawamba once said: “have a good time all the time.” The director of Mondovino is always panning away to his interviewees’ dogs while they’re still talking, because the dogs are more fun to look at, and Blank finds water snakes and scorpions and contemplates the sky (a cover of I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry just shows a long take of the moon going behind a cloud). This solves the Gimme Shelter problem – let your drugged-out rock stars have their moral dilemma, but we don’t have to stare at their confused faces the whole time. Anyway the movie kicks so much ass, and I could see myself picking up that crazy box set full of docs about garlic and the blues someday. Starring Leon Russell with appearances by George Jones, Willie Nelson and Sweet Mary Egan.

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