A Poem is a Naked Person
Directed by Les Blank
Les Blank's first feature-length documentary captures music and other events at Leon Russell's Oklahoma recording studio during a three-year period (1972-1974).
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★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
A free-associative trip through the golden years of rhythm and blues, Les Blank’s long-lost Leon Russell doc unfolds like a southern-fried Almost Famous that’s been stitched together from all of the little observations that a scripted film would leave out. Shot between 1972 and 1974 and buried for more than four decades after Russell balked at the finished product, A Poem Is a Naked Person has been lovingly remastered by the late filmmaker’s son (after he connected with Russell on Facebook). The movie hasn’t just been worth the wait, it’s been transformed by it: In the ’70s, this would’ve been an unusually intimate tour portrait. Now, it’s a newly unearthed time capsule, the remarkable clarity of Blank’s portrait compounded by the distance from which we’re looking at it.
★★★★★ review by Jon M. on Letterboxd
As I continued to collect my thoughts on this beautiful, brilliant film, I can sum it up briefly as such:
Les Blank's approach to documentary - and, let's be honest, cinema in general - is a delight. He's one of the most life-affirming directors in history. A Poem is a Naked Person is a great tribute to life, death, and most of all, the pleasures of the human experience. Each moment is special and it's a reminder of just how great it is to be alive. In describing her family, one of this film's subjects quips, "We're just pleasure-seekers." But, in indulging in Blank's films, so are we. And what a pleasure they are.
★★★★½ review by Ben Elias on Letterboxd
That’s it! I’m moving in with all my friends and doubling down on this whole smoking thing!
★★★★ review by Nick on Letterboxd
Blank is entranced by the quaint and colorful beauty of his surroundings, and allows his camera to loosely follow behind him as his attention diverts from audience member to town citizen, from lake to mural, from landmark to fallen landmark, from life to death. the importance of each throwaway, likely drug-influenced thought feels twice as amplified: a true time capsule, in that everything recorded is clearly a product of the moment; a nostalgic reminder of the merits of existing as freely as its subjects do, with a crushing cognizance of what those merits mean in the long term.
★★★½ review by Jacob Gehman on Letterboxd
I watch things on a whim most of the time. Rhyme and reason go right out the window. Rhyme or reason would dictate I'd watch something completely different while doing my laundry, but for better or worse (and probably better), whim controls everything. I saw A Poem is a Naked Person sitting in front of me, so I watched A Poem is a Naked Person, even though I know nothing about Leon Russell (the musician this film is about) or Les Blank (the man who made the film).
Both names are familiar, of course. I spent too much time as a teen/20-something perusing CD racks at record stores that no longer exist. Leon Russell was a name on the spine of at least a handful of them. Likewise, my on-going interest in the Criterion collection means my eyes have drifted over Les Blank's name quite a bit. Dude directed a lot of documentaries.
A Poem is a Naked Person was filmed between 1972 and 1974. Despite some private viewings, it never got an actual release until Criterion released it this year. It was never a "lost" film, per se, but the raw difficulty in obtaining the proper music clearances made it unlikely to ever see the light of day. But they succeeded, and here we are.
Even though I've never watched a Les Blank film before, the few things I've read had prepared me for what a Les Blank film might look like. Nothing took me by surprise, really. It's less a documentary than it is an actual document: a work of art crafted around the gigantic personality of Leon Russell, but as with any good work of art, it cannot be contained by its muse. Thus, in addition to Russell, we see Les Blank's eye get caught up in all sorts filming--stuff that has nothing (or at most a tenuous link) to Russell or his band members.
--Speed boats racing.
--Clouds in the sky.
We also see:
--Backup singers singing and swaying.
--Piano key pressing.
--and et cetera.
Most with a decidedly Leon Russell focus.
We also see:
--Hotel room flying.
--and et cetera.
Which is to say, A Poem is a Naked Person marks the early-to-mid 70s culture in a wide, eccentric way, even as much of the film's focus throbs to the beat of Leon Russell's brand of americana/folk/gospel/kind of rock music.
It's interesting on its own terms as Blank's camera flickers here, then here, then here. In fact, it may be disappointing for people interested in A Poem is a Naked Person from a mostly Leon Russell standpoint because, even as Russell is arguably the subject, he's far from the focus.
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