Filmmaker Who Directors Guild President Says Is ‘a National Treasure’ Dies at 77

Apr 8, 2013  •  Post A Comment

A filmmaker whom Taylor Hackford, president of the Directors Guild, called "a national treasure" has died of bladder cancer at age 77, reports The New York Times.

The filmmaker is Les Blank.

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Les Blank

The Times obituary, by Bruce Weber, says: "Les Blank, 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, died on Sunday at his home in Berkeley, Calif."

The Times adds, "[Blank’s] films are hardly standard documentary fare, dominated by archival footage and interviews with talking heads; nor are they of the Frederick Wiseman-D.A. Pennebaker fly-on-the-wall exposé school. Rather, the films, most of them less than an hour long, are ‘brilliantly sympathetic, well-crafted essays,’ as John Rockwell wrote in The New York Times in 1979, rife with deftly framed portraiture, cunningly observed social scenes, beautiful nature photography and the poetic juxtaposition of imagery and sound."

The story continues, " ‘I think he’s a national treasure,’ the director Taylor Hackford said in a telephone interview. ‘Although his films are not well known at the moment, they’ll take their place. Films are great when they live a long time, and I think Les’s will live.’ " 

Says an obituary about Blank in the San Francisco Chronicle: " ‘I started showing Les’ films in 1969 when I saw his first film, ‘The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins,’ said Tom Luddy, a longtime producer for American Zoetrope and co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival. ‘I thought it was the best film on music I had ever seen. He got stuff that nobody else gets.’ Luddy thought it was a fluke, but it wasn’t. ‘That began this amazing career of capturing the culture and lifestyle of so many unique artists working in regional American settings.’ "

A list of Blank’s films can be found here, on the IMDB website.

Here’s a short excerpt from "The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins":

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