Tag Archives: Les Blank

Obituaries

Les Blank, highly regarded documentarian, dies at 77

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Les Blank, regarded by many as one of the best documentary makers in the country, died on Sunday at his Berkeley home. He was 77. The cause was bladder cancer, according to his son, Harrod Blank.

Blank lived in Berkeley for 35 years and his company, Flower Films, is based in El Cerrito.

His friend, Berkeley Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, described Blank’s films as “very, very full of life” and said he had a knack for getting people to reveal themselves. According to his former wife, Chris Simon, Blank did not think of himself as a documentarian, but rather as “a filmmaker whose work happened to be about real people.”

Many of Blank’s films, such as The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1970) and Chulas Fronteras (1976), focused on American traditional music and its cultural context. He covered the blues, Appalachian, Cajun, Creole, Tex-Mex, polka, tamburitza, and Hawaiian musics. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley documentary filmmaker Les Blank to be honored

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Update, 9:10 p.m.: Les Blank was able to attend the City Council meeting and heard the proclamation that was made about him. He was accompanied by his son Harrod Blank and many friends showed up to support him. Berkeleyside’s Emilie Raguso was at the meeting and posted the photo below to Twitter and on our Facebook page (where there’s also video of Harrod Blank addressing the Council.)

Original story: “Les Blank is one of the best documentary filmmakers in America,” says Susan Wengraf, councilwoman for district 6 in Berkeley, who plans to present Blank with a proclamation at tonight’s meeting of the City Council.

Blank, who has lived in Berkeley for 35 years, and whose company Flower Films, is based in El Cerrito, may not be able to attend the meeting at which he will be honored, however, as he is very ill. (On Monday, Blank’s son Harrod told friends he hoped his father would be there.)

Wengraf, who has know the filmmaker for nearly 40 years, says she is crossing her fingers Blank will be there, but she takes comfort from the fact that an informal proclamation was made at a recent screening of clips of Blank’s films. Many of his friends were there and Blank answered questions from the audience. “Harrod said it made him very happy and lifted his spirits,” Wengraf says. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s garlicky food revolution: Stories within stories

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If it’s true that “Garlic is as good as ten mothers,” the title of Les Blank’s 1980 film, my question is: why anyone would want ten mothers? For most people I know, and speaking for myself, one good mother was plenty. Evidently this is not the case with garlic, about which, for its fanatical fans, there is no such thing as too much.

So when Blank’s cinematic homage to never-enough-garlic was screened on a recent Sunday at the Pacific Film Archive as part of a Les Blank retrospective, aging but loyal garlic-heads, including yours truly, showed up to marinate, yet again, in the stinking rose’s aromatic magic.

When my Book of Garlic was published in 1974 under the nom de plume Lloyd J. Harris, it luckily caught Les Blank’s eye (and nostrils). The book, which had been inspired by my brief stint as a waiter at Chez Panisse during its first hectic days in 1971, proclaimed a garlic revolution in America and popularized the ancient Roman word for garlic, “stinking rose.”   … Continue reading »

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