From The Desk Of Spirit Family Reunion: Les Blank

When the folks in Spirit Family Reunion raise their voices in song, they deliver an inspiring message. Their mostly acoustic approach combines elements of rock with hints of bluegrass and country music. They have a feel that approaches the fervent emotions of gospel music, but their messages stay grounded in the secular world. Banjo player Maggie Carson will be guest editing all week. Read our new feature on the band


Carson: Les Blank’s films are a treasure. He was an American documentary filmmaker who covered our country’s most essential topics: garlic, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Cajun country and gap-toothed women. His movies typically last about 30 minutes, and they are beautiful to watch. The kind of footage he captures, the intimate access to his subjects, and the way he pieces together the story all make his films truly special. It’s difficult to pinpoint what the thread is throughout his five decades of work, but there is most certainly a defining characteristic to Blank’s films. Maybe it’s the part of America that now seems extinct, as if he perfectly captured these characters in all their complex and enigmatic glory, providing them with a graceful exit as America evolved into a place where they were no longer welcome. His movies seem to connect pieces of a puzzle that you didn’t even know existed. Polka, sausage making, Mardi Gras, Zydeco, West Coast hippies, Appalachian fiddlers, Werner Herzog, all seemingly unrelated, are somehow woven together through the lens of Les Blank. Appropriately, you can visit a library or call your local art-house cinema programmer to see his films. More conveniently, you can find some clips and $30 DVDs online.

Video after the jump.