NZIFF Diary Day 8: A POEM IS A NAKED PERSON

1974; directed by Les Blank; 90 mins

A poem is a naked person… some people say that I’m a poet” – Bob Dylan Made between 1972 and 1974 but not released until 2015 at the behest of producer/subject Leon Russell, this oddly titled, free-wheeling documentary is the kind of thing that makes Les Blank better than Terrence Malick for me. Both directors are bowled over by life, the beauty of our planet and wonder at the people around them but with Les Blank, you get a more rounded and grounded look at his surroundings and certainly no platitudinous voiceovers about life, the universe and everything. Apparently, Russell loved Blank’s work through documentaries such as The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins and A Well-Spent Life but was annoyed by the end product because there wasn’t enough of him in it. Odd, because it’s not as though he gets sidelined at all. There is definitely a lot of off-shoots to the entourage of musicians, friends, family and the surrounding community where Russell bases his Oklahoma recording studio. What’s doubly strange with Russell’s decision is that, whilst this definitely one of the more experimental rock-docs that’s been made, is that throughout the film we see that Russell surrounds himself with all sorts of artists and alternative types to whom Blank is irrevocably drawn aswell. I’ve been dancing around the ‘plot’ so far but in simplest terms, the film follows Russell as he sets up his recording studio in his native Oklahoma, touring, gigging, recording with musicians both young and old and attending functions with close family and friends. The film also swings away to see local goose chasing events, a snake consuming a little yellow chick (morally suspect, I feel) and a man who eats glass to varying degrees of success. What these non-sequiturs are all in aid of is hard to tell but it does all chip in towards a sense of quietly satisfying chaos. It could easily look like the director and editor have no idea what they’re doing. I suspect that this is consecutive things that happened in the two years, like a filmed diary but from day to day, they obviously didn’t know what was coming next. Blank’s films are unadorned with obtrusive direction or look-at-me directorial quirks because his camera sees the art in the everyday. It sees everything as art so doesn’t feel the need to piss about with it, just show it and hope that someone else appreciates it too. Aside from a couple of queasy moments of moral suspect-ary, the film is to be wallowed in and enjoyed for what it is. All this and I’m not even a big fan of the music.

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