Documentary filmmaker Les Blank, who died on April 7 at 77, is featured in an interview on this week’s Highway 61. I conducted the interview back in February 11 when Blank was in town for the Oxford Film Festival, where he showed three films — Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Dry Wood (about Mardi Gras in south Louisiana, featuring Creole musicians Canray Fontenot and Boisec Ardoin– you can watch it here). The following weekend he was to be honored at the Folk Alliance Conference in Oxford, and he stayed for the interim week at the home of my neighbor, documentary filmmaker Joe York. We interviewed him in my living room, and had a great time with Les that week talking about his various passions, including Southern food.
Blank made films on a wide variety of topics (most can be purchased at his website) — including tea, garlic, and gap-teethed women — but is perhaps best known for his films about American vernacular music. In addition to the films noted above, his subjects have included bluesman Mance Lipscomb (A Well Spent Life), cajun music (Spend It All) Mardi Gras (Always a Pleasure), Afro Cuban drumming (Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella), old time fiddler Tommy Jarrell (Sprout Wings and Fly), zydeco king Clifton Chenier (Hot Pepper), Tex-Mex border music (Chulas Fronteras and De Mero Corazon), Cajun masters Marc and Ann Savoy (Marc & Ann), and polka (In Heaven There is No Beer?). Together with his old friend Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records, Blank also made J’ai Été Au Bal (I Went to the Dance), a wonderful overview of music traditions in southwest Louisiana. Here’s a clip from Always For Pleasure:
A big segment of this week’s Highway 61 features Blank talking about his film about Lightnin’ Hopkins, including the wonderful scene in film where harmonica player Billy Bizor performs a song in which he cries like a baby. Here’s a clip great clip from the film:
In the interview Blank also talks about his films about Lipscomb, Rhodes, Always For Pleasure, as well as his south Louisiana films. Not included in the show was his discussion of his concert film Ry Cooder And The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces, which was unfortunately never officially released (although many clips were posted on Youtube, likely drawn from the film’s one-time broadcast on Japanese TV). Here’s a video clip from our interview with Blank on the Cooder film, followed by some clips from the film:
Ry Cooder covering J.B. Lenoir’s Down In Mississippi
Ry Cooder – Jesus on the Mainline