R.I.P. Les Blank: Five Highlights From the Career of a Great Documentarian

The rich lore of Les Blank includes a story he told about dropping out of grad school at UC Berkeley, feeling aimless for a while, then seeing Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal and being steered away, last-minute, from a military life. He wound up making films instead, mostly nonfiction. That seemed like a better fit — more suited to Blank's mildness of manner, and his penchant for the gentle ecstasies of observation.

Blank, 77, expired from cancer on Sunday in his home in Berkeley, where he lived for many years and there's a day named after him. But his dozens of movies seem unlikely ever to die. These are films from a time before subcultures succumbed to monoculture; before everybody's teeth got fixed and pictures got digitized and color-corrected to death; before narration came at you in twenty different know-it-all ways, leeching the wonder out of everything.

Blank ranged eagerly across a vast swath of Americana, more interested in affirmations than agitations. He put out movies like hand-made nourishments, many of them seemingly done as larks, and somehow all the more lasting for it. He was more inclined to call them movies about real people than documentaries. Here are a few worth tracking down.


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