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The Road Les Traveled: A Les Blank Filmography

By IDA Editorial Staff

A book cover from 'Burden of Dreams.'

Les Blank is a prize-winning independent filmmaker, best known for a series of poetic films that led Time Magazine critic Jay Cocks to write, "I can't believe that anyone interested in movies or America...could watch Blank's work without feeling they'd been granted a casual, soft-spoken revelation." John Rockwell, writing in The New York Times, adds, "Blank is a documentarian of folk cultures who transforms anthropology into art." And Vincent Canby, also in The Times, declared that Blank "is a master of movies about the American of our most original filmmakers."

Major retrospectives of Blank's films have been mounted in Los Angeles at FILMEX in 1977; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1978 and 1984; New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1979; the National Film Theatre, London, 1982; Cineteca Nacional, Mexico City, 1984; the Cinematheque Francais, Paris, 1986; the Independent Film Week, Augsburg,Germany, 1990 and the Leipzig Film Festival, 1995 and the Sofia Music Film Festival, Bulgaria, 1998.

Feature articles on Blank have appeared in American Film, Film Quarterly, Take One, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Image Magazine, Mother Jones, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Premiere, Downbeat and Video Review. In 1984 Blank co-edited the Burden of Dreams book, which included journals written during the making of Burden of Dreams by him, sound recordist-editor Maureen Gosling and Werner Herzog, plus an article by legendary journalist Michael Goodwin. In 1986, National Public Radio aired a half-hour special on Blank's work and in 1991 CNN aired a special on him worldwide.

Among Blank's numerous awards are the British Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, 1982, Burden of Dreams; the Golden Gate Award "Best of Festival", San Francisco Film Festival, 1982, Burden of Dreams; Grand Prize, Melbourne Film Festival, 1985, In Heaven There Is No Beer?; Special Jury Award US (Sundance) Film Festival, 1985, In Heaven There Is No Beer?; Grand Award, Houston Film Festival, 1983, Burden of Dreams; Golden Hugo, Chicago Film Festival, 1969, The Blues Accordin' To Lightnin' Hopkins ; Blue Ribbon, American Film and Video Festival, Dry Wood, Hot Pepper, Always For Pleasure, Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers, Burden of Dreams, Gap-Toothed Women, The Best of Blank, J'ai Ete Au Bal, Yum,Yum,Yum! and Marc and Ann.; "Best of Festival," Sinking Creek (Nashville) 1996, The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists).

In 1990, Les Blank received the American Film Institute's Maya Deren Award for outstanding lifetime achievement as an independent filmmaker. In 1989-1990 Blank was the distinguished filmmaker-in-residence at San Diego State University and in 1991, adjunct assistant professor in film at the University of California, Berkeley. He was also the Louis B. Mayer filmmaker-in-residence at Dartmouth College and a directing fellow at the Sundance Institute in Utah (both in 1984). His work has been supported by The National Endowment for the Arts, The American Film Institute, The National Endowment For the Humanities, The Ford Foundation, The Guggenheim Foundation, PBS and the BBC. Between 1973 and 1994 Blank toured extensively with the sponsorship of the United States Information Agency, screening his films and discussing them with audiences throughout Latin America, China, England, Spain, Germany, Italy, the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Egypt.


1960 Running Around Like A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off
1964 Dizzy Gillespie
1968 God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance
1969 The Sun's Gonna Shine
1969 The Blues Accordin' to Lightnin' Hopkins
1969 Easy Rider (Directed by Dennis Hopper; second camera by Les Blank)
1969 The Arch (Directed by Shu Shuen; featuring Lisa Lu; edited by Les Blank)
1971 Spend It All
1971 A Well Spent Life
1973 Dry Wood
1973 Hot Pepper
1974 A Poem Is a Naked Person
1976 Chulas Fronteras (selected to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1993)
1978 Always for Pleasure
1978 Poto and Cabengo (directed by Jean Pierre Gorin; camera by Les Blank)
1979 Del Mero Corazon
1980 Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers
1980 Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe
1982 Burden of Dreams
1983 Sprout Wings and Fly
1984 In Heaven There Is No Beer?
1985 Cigarette Blues
1986 Huey Lewis and the News: Be-Fore!
1987 Gap-Toothed Women
1987 Ziveli!: Medicine for the Heart
1988 Ry Cooder and the Moula Banda Rhythm Aces
1989 J'ai Été Au Bal (I Went to the Dance) aired on PBS’ The American Experience in an abridged version as French Dance Tonight
1990 Roots of Rhythm (with Harry Belafonte) (director and cinematographer for New York and Cuba sequences)
1990 Yum, Yum, Yum!
1991 Julie: Old Time Tales of the Blue Ridge
1991 Marc and Ann
1991 Innocents Abroad (aired on PBS' Travel Series in an abridged version as The Grand Tour)
1991 Puamana
1994 My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge
1995 Hole in the Soul (Directed by Dusan Makavejev; camera by Les Blank)
1995 The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists
1995 Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella

In Progress

White Feathers, Black Bones (on Tea enthusiast-adventurer David Lee Hoffman's travels in China in search of the ideal leaf)

In Waiting

An untitled video on Garrison Keillor; Carnival Is the Answer (on calypso, costuming and steel drum traditions of Carnival in Trinidad, and Trinidadian Carnival in Brooklyn) and Green Warriors: Desperate Measures in Desperate Times (on radical environmentalism, deep ecology and Earth First!)

This Filmography appeared in City Pages Volume 18, #850, by Phil Anderson.