Reflections on Les Blank

Les_Blank_by_Chris_Simon_600Darrell Hartman at Guernica:

Dry Wood, Les Blank’s 1973 documentary about Creole life and music, throws the viewer headfirst into unfamiliar, almost bizarre, scenes of backwoods theater. It opens with a troupe of revelers costumed in cone hats, clown masks, and frilled jumpsuits, chasing a rooster around a yard. The camera follows their pickup trucks down a country road and into a gas station’s dirt parking lot, where they tip back handles of liquor and dance around while a fiddler plays. Someone throws a handful of pocket change up into the air; they go chasing after that, too.

This sequence of rag-tag Mardi Gras—like Rabelais with tractors and Budweiser—unfolds mostly on its own. No voiceover narrator or talking head chimes in to explain what we’re seeing—there are only the subjects themselves, accompanied by festive strains of zydeco music. Dry Wood becomes a brief immersion in that folk genre, a film that weaves the music into scenes of daily life—especially of celebration—for a dynamic, appreciative portrait of a longstanding American micro-culture.

In short, it’s vintage Blank.

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