Goodbye Les Blank

STORY BY Holly Ramos

Published: April 15, 2013

My father was handsome man with dark greased-back thick hair, olive skin, and green eyes. But what I loved most was the space between his two front teeth. My sister got the space too. I didn’t. Sometimes I would take theatrical tooth paint, the stuff you would use to black out some teeth to create the illusion of missing teeth, and I would paint a thin black stripe between my top two front teeth so that it would look like I had a space there. Once a well meaning friend told me I had some food on my teeth but I flashed a giant smile and corrected him, “Its not food, its my gap!” 

This month we lost a great American filmmaker. Les Blank died of cancer at age 77 on April 7th. He made some of my favorite films, including 1987’s Gap-Toothed Women.

Les shot, directed, and produced over 30 films in a span of 50 years. I first heard of him when I went to some dark underground east village screening of The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins.” I went because I loved Lightnin’, but I left in love with Les as well. From there I saw what I could, what was available in the technologically limited 1980’s. 

Stunning photography of rural magical landscapes, whimsical meandering takes of imperfectly gorgeous human beings living life, and sensuous elements of great food and brilliant music made Les a poet of film. Les knew about some good secrets, he was connected to the life force and the underground, and he had great taste. His films had brilliant subtexts about body image and what is really beautiful, and about death and why life is great! Live it and enjoy it right now while you got it. Les is a hero many times over.

Lucky us who live in the modern world and can see his work on youtube, or even better, support it by buying as much of it as you can at www.lesblank.com.

There will be a retrospective of his work at the end of this month at the Canadian International Documentary Festival in downtown Toronto April 25th to May 5th.  I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of his films in the near future.

I believed he lived the title of his 1971 film, A Well Spent Life. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Les.

Other Stories by Holly Ramos
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