The legendary documentarian Les Blank has passed away. I’m not much of an authority as I’ve only seen three or four of his films, and because I’m partial to his early to late ’80s period (i.e., Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, Burden of Dreams, In Heaven There Is No Beer?, Huey Lewis And The News: Be-Fore!, Ry Cooder And The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces). But I’m not the only one who feels that Burden of Dreams is his masterpiece.
From a Werner Herzog riff in Burden of Dreams: “Nature is much stronger than we are. [It’s been said] that nature is full of erotic elements. I don’t see so much erotic. I see it full of obscenities. Nature is vile and base. I see fornicaton and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. Of course there is a lot of misery. The trees here are in misery. I think the birds are in misery. They just screech in pain.”
Here’s the last thing I wrote about Blank, which posted in August 2010:
“A little more than six years ago filmmaker Les Blank, best known for his legendary Burden of Dreams (1982), a doc about the making of Werner Herzog‘s Fitzcarraldo, took part in a 2004 Santa Barbara Film Festival panel discussion about documentary filmmaking. I don’t remember what Blank said (a video of the discussion sits below), but I do recall his decision to lay out DVDs of his films on a blanket outside the theatre and offer them for sale.
“The fact that Burden of Dreams is now free on Hulu indicates that it’s not exactly a hot-selling Criterion Collection title. It is nonetheless one of the most stirring making-of-a movie docs ever made. It is arguably equal to Fitzcarraldo itself, as both films deal with a white man’s manic obsession and borderline lunacy in a remote South American jungle, and how it impacts a native culture. Klaus Kinski‘s Fitzcarraldo = Werner Herzog = Fitzcarraldo and back again.
“In my book BOD is in the same realm as George Hickenlooper‘s Hearts of Darkness, Laurent Bouzereau‘s two-hour-long ‘making of Jaws‘ doc (i.e., originally included on a Jaws special edition laser disc in the ’90s, re-appeared on a 30th anniversary Jaws DVD that came out in ’05) and Charles Lauzarika‘s Tricks of the Trade, an innovative 71-minute doc about the making of Ridley Scott‘s Matchstick Men.