In tribute to the renowned director Les Blank, who died recently aged 77, we present a programme celebrating his life and work. Many of Blank’s films document people at the margins of American society and their music – blues, Cajun, Creole music, TexMex, polka. Blank avoided commentary and testimonies from experts, instead his films immerse the audience in these cultures, capturing the essence and spirit of his subjects in unique, intimate and often impromptu situations. Blank brought similar technique to his films about established artists Dizzy Gillespie, Lightnin’ Hopkins and, in what remains his most famous work Burden of Dreams, Werner Herzog during the chaotic production of Fitzcarraldo.
Running Around Like a Chicken with Its Head Cut Off
1960 | 4 min | B/W | Digital
1964 | 20 min | B/W | Digital
"In his own words and his 'own own' music, Lightnin' Hopkins reveals the inspiration for his blues. He sings, jives, ponders. He boogies at an outdoor barbecue and a black rodeo, and takes you with him on a homecoming visit to his boyhood home of Centerville, Texas. The film reaches past the impish bluesman himself into the Blues itself, into the red-clay Texas, into hard times, into blackness, into the senses." – Les Blank
"...the best visual record of Tex-Mex & Norteño music that I know." – Ry Cooder
"Chulas Fronteras is absolutely the best Chicano documentary film that I have seen to date. It is our history, rescued without excuses and without romanticism but wit vitality." – Prof. Juan Rodriguez
For nearly five years, acclaimed German filmmaker Werner Herzog desperately tried to complete one of the most ambitious and difficult films of his career, Fitzcarraldo, the story of one man’s attempt to build an opera house deep in the Amazon jungle. Les Blank captured the unfolding of this production, made more perilous by Herzog’s determination to shoot the most daunting scenes without models or special effects, including a sequence requiring hundreds of natives to pull a full-size, 320-ton steamship over a small mountain. The result is an extraordinary document of the filmmaking process and a unique look into the single-minded mission of one of cinema's most fearless directors.
We would like to thank Harrod Blank for his invaluable support.