The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts supports embedded arts research through critical exchange

Always for Pleasure: The Films of Les Blank

July 8, 2012-August 30, 2012
Berkeley Art Museum, UC Berkeley

We pass a street sign that reads, “Joy,” and another that announces “Pleasure,” as local documentary filmmaker Les Blank takes us on a journey through the back roads and main streets of American culture. He has an ear for regional music, from the blues to Tex-Mex and polka; an eye for dancing and food; and a feel for the people who enjoy it all. Backyards and front porches, kitchens and cantinas, neighborhood alleys and church aisles overflow with good times that arise from these deep-rooted cultural practices.

Since 1960, Les Blank, along with frequent collaborators Maureen Gosling, Chris Simon, and Chris Strachwitz, has created a body of work that celebrates the rich diversity of American traditions, and the poetry and passion of the people who keep them alive, whether in Berkeley, Texas, Louisiana, Chicago, or Appalachia. Blank is especially interested in musicians—his films feature Ry Cooder, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Flaco Jiménez, and Clifton Chenier, among others—and the creative obsessions of individuals both famous and unknown, from gap-toothed women, flower children, and tea importers to filmmakers and cowboy artists. Their stories are often set against hard social realities, including poverty and racism.

Blank’s beautiful, roaming camerawork will be the subject of a Behind the Scenes lecture on Saturday, August 25, and on Wednesday, August 30, Maureen Gosling will share her insights into documentary sound and editing. Plan for a summer of pleasure, as special culinary events will accompany some of these feasts for the eyes and ears.

Kathy Geritz, Film Curator

Sunday, July 8, 2012
7:00 p.m. Always for Pleasure
Les Blank (U.S., 1978). Archival Print! Les Blank in person. Immerse yourself in the festivities of our most festive city, New Orleans. Preceded by Blank’s first film, a short homage to The Seventh Seal, and Dry Wood, an intimate portrait of Creole life. Join us for a Creole dinner at Babette before the show (ticketed separately). (99 mins)

Sunday, July 15, 2012
7:00 p.m. In Heaven There Is No Beer?
Les Blank with Maureen Gosling (U.S., 1984). Les Blank in person. A joyful glimpse of Polish American music, dancing and food. Followed by Chulas Fronteras, featuring Flaco Jiménez and other Nortenõ musicians on both sides of the border. (108 mins)

Sunday, July 22, 2012
5:00 p.m. All in This Tea
Les Blank, Gina Leibrecht (U.S., 2006). Les Blank in person. Follow tea importer David Lee Hoffman as he travels through China in search of handcrafted premium teas. Followed by a special tea tasting. “An entertaining portrait of an eccentric figure whose singular passion proves infectious” (Hollywood Reporter). Followed by a special tea tasting with Hoffman. (70 mins)

Sunday, July 29, 2012
7:00 p.m. ry cooder group ‘88 in santa cruz
Les Blank (U.S., 1988). Les Blank in person. Slide-guitar great and world music alchemist Ry Cooder and a handpicked orchestra of virtuoso musicians play The Catalyst in Santa Cruz. Preceded by Sword to the Drum, a tribute to Afro-Cuban drummer Francisco Aguabella. (120 mins)

Sunday, August 5, 2012
7:00 p.m. A Well Spent Life
Les Blank with Skip Gerson (U.S., 1971). Les Blank in person. Discover the distinct musical styles and authentic modes of living of three musical greats: Texas bluesman Mance Lipscomb in A Well Spent Life; Dizzy Gillespie; and bluegrass fiddler Tommy Jarrell in Sprout Wings and Fly. (96 mins)

Sunday, August 12, 2012
7:00 p.m. The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists
Les Blank with Maureen Gosling, Chris Simon (U.S., 1994). Les Blank in person. Join us for three films that celebrate individuality and creativity: The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists, a portrait of local artist Gerald Gaxiola; Julie: Old Time Tales of the Blue Ridge; and Gap-Toothed Women, which addresses issues of beauty, womanhood, and personal fulfillment. (96 mins)

Sunday, August 19, 2012
7:00 p.m. Special Screening
Les Blank (U.S., 1974). Les Blank in person. A rare chance to see a film on a major rock star of the 1970s—we can’t tell you who—described by the Washington Post as “the best film ever made on rock.” Preceded by Cigarette Blues, featuring Oakland bluesman Sonny Rhodes. (96 mins)

Saturday, August 25, 2012
5:00 p.m. Behind the Scenes: Les Blank on Documentary Cinematography
In this special lecture, Les Blank traces the evolution of his documentary filming style from his early works to the present, while screening two films from the late 1960s, God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance and Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins. Followed by Hot Pepper, a thrilling musical portrait of Zydeco King Clifton Chenier. (c. 150 mins)

Sunday, August 26, 2012
7:00 p.m. Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers
Les Blank (U.S., 1980) Les Blank in person. Les Blank’s paean to the history of the stinking rose features a host of garlic lovers who praise its culinary as well as healing attributes. Preceded by two other culinary creations, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (archival print!) and Spend It All. (118 mins)

Thursday, August 30, 2012
7:00 p.m. Burden of Dreams
Les Blank with Maureen Gosling (U.S., 1982). Archival Print! Maureen Gosling in person. One of the more unusual films about filmmaking, Burden of Dreams documents Werner Herzog’s obsessive four-year struggle to complete his 1982 film, Fitzcarraldo. Named by Derek Malcolm (The Guardian) as one of the best one hundred films of the twentieth century. (94 mins)

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