True Orleans: Food to Mouth – Two Films by Les Blank

By Shotgun CinemaPublished on 09/21/2017

Tonight marks the first of hopefully many evenings of films by legendary documentarian Les Blank. And while it may seem self-serving for a gap-toothed, garlic-loving curator to pull together this program, I assure you that the pairing is an intentional nod to the passion inherent in Blank’s work. This program is intended to be a celebration of uniqueness and the pleasure that people take in their passions.

A Tulane University graduate, Blank spent formative years in New Orleans. Blank’s films command your attention in a unique way: his eye for gorgeous compositions, distinctive editing rhythms, perfect score for any subject, and the sheer joy he often captures. To call Blank prolific isn’t quite enough to capture the volume of work he produced. With over 45 films to his name, Blank continuously made films over the course of five decades. His subjects were seemingly whimsical but significant and valuable, ranging from the hippies at the historic Los Angeles “Love-In” in 1967, to Gulf Coast musicians like Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier, to his friend Werner Herzog eating his own shoe, to the cultural spirit, soul, and food of our city. Blank trains his camera on overlooked people and subjects, providing a nuanced point of view that reserves judgment and simply shows rather than tells.

Blank also gave attention to the nuances of food, and we’re presenting Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, complete with our own interpretation of Aromaround, a technique in which Blank had roasted garlic wafting through the audience during screenings. Although there’s a more common 30-minute cut, we’re showing the rarely seen 50-minute version. The film was entered into the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2004; Blank, Albert Maysles, and Frederick Wiseman are the only nonfiction filmmakers to have multiple films added to the prestigious registry. Blank’s website says it best, calling the film “a zesty paean of praise to the greater glories of garlic.” Building on the Aromaround presentation, we’ll have some garlicky snacks on hand for your eventual mouth-watering response.

The program will begin with Gap-Toothed Women, which is an ode to – you guessed it – women with spaces between their teeth. Rather than crafting a simple homage, Blank delves deeper into the personality traits and social biases present in the shared experience of these women. The celebration of beauty here is like no other, and Blank’s more than 20 subjects radiate confidence and joy while being extremely informative – which is the core of Les Blank’s filmmaking.


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