A Poem is a Naked Person – The Criterion Collection #805 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
March 27, 2016 by Dennis Amith
Intimate, casual and intriguing, Les Blank’s “A Poem is a Naked Person” is recommended!
Image courtesy of © Les Blanks Films, Inc. 2016 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: A Poem is a Naked Person – The Criterion Collection #805
YEAR OF FILM: 1974
DURATION: 90 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, English Monaural with English SDH Subtitles
COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: March 29, 2016
Directed by Les Blank
Written by Les Blank
Produced by Denny Cordell, Leon Russell
Executive Producer: Harrod Blank
Cinematography by Les Blank
Edited by Les Blank
Les Blank considered this free-form feature documentary about beloved singer-songwriter Leon Russell, filmed between 1972 and 1974, to be one of his greatest accomplishments. Yet it has not been released until now. Hired by Russell to film him at his recording studio in northeast Oklahoma, Blank ended up constructing a unique, intimate portrait of a musician and his environment. Made up of mesmerizing scenes of Russell and his band performing, both in concert and in the studio, as well as off-the-cuff moments behind the scenes, this singular film—which also features performances by Willie Nelson and George Jones—has attained legendary status over the years. It’s a work of rough beauty that serves as testament to Blank’s cinematic daring and Russell’s immense musical talents.
American documentary filmmaker Les Blank is well-known for his portraits of American traditional musicians.
Known for his musical and non-musical works which include “Dizzy Gillespie” (1965), “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe” (1980), “Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers” (1980), “Burden of Dreams” (1982), “In Heaven There is No Beer?” (1984), to name a few, Les Blank is a filmmaker renown for his freeform style of filmmaking.
But one of his films, “A Poem is a Naked Person” (1974) is interesting, moreso because its release was delayed for 40 years due to creative differences and also music clearance problems.
Focusing on Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musician Leon Russell (best known for the song “A Song for You” which has been covered by over 40 artists including Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, the Carpenters, etc.) from 1972-1974.
Blank’s documentary gives people an insight look into the world of Leon Russell, life in northeast Oklahoma at the time and the music of Leon Russell and performing live on tour.
Because of the disagreement between Leon Russell and filmmaker Les Blank, the film was only shown to an audience for free and only when Les Blank was present. But unfortunately, the film would not be shown again until Blank’s son and documentary filmmaker Harrod Blank worked with the permission of Leon Russell and Les Blank (who would pass away due to bladder cancer a few months later).
With Les Blank asking Harrod to remaster the film, but also doing necessary edits for its 40th anniversary screening. And the film received critical acclaim.
And now this documentary, a time capsule full of music and off-the-cuff moments behind-the-scenes of Leon Russell and friends during the early ’70s arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
“A Poem is a Naked Person – The Criterion Collection #805” is presented in 1:33:1 color and in 1080p High Definition. The film shot in 16 mm looks absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray!
As expected with 16 mm, there is a good amount of grain but also showing the film as it was meant to be. No color degradation, no warping, no major issues with picture quality.
According to the Criterion Collection, “this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from the original 16 mm reversal check point.”
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
As for the lossless audio, “A Poem is a Naked Person – The Criterion Collection #805” is presented in English LPCM 1.0 without any buzzing or crackle.
According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 16 mm monaural mixed magnetic stripe track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and Izotope RX 4.
Subtitles are in English SDH.
“A Poem is a Naked Person – The Criterion Collection #805” comes with the following special features:
- Harrod Blank and Leon Russell – (26:40) Harrod Blanks and musician Leon Russell talk about the film’s production in the early ’70s and its release in 2015.
- Les Blank – (8:38) Shortly before Les Blanks death in Feb. 2013, the following is a discussion with the audience of family and friends at Pixar Animation Studios in Northern California.
- A Film’s Fourty-Year Journey: The Making of “A Poem is a Naked Person” – (36:45) A 2015 documentary produced by the Criterion Collection with interviews with Harrod Blank, sound recordist and assistant editor Maureen Gosling and Jim Franklin, the artist who was featured prominently in the film.
- Out in the Woods – (12:58) While in production of “A Poem is a Naked Person”, sound recordist and assistant editor Maureen Gosling shot her own Super 8 footage between 1972-1974, with excerpts from letters she wrote to family.
- Trailers – Trailers (theatrical, extended and alternated/unused) for “A Poem is a Naked Person”.
“A Poem is a Naked Person – The Criterion Collection #805” comes with a five-page foldout with the essay “I Shall Be Released” by Kent Jones.
Between 1972-1974, documentary filmmaker Les Blank and his assistant Maureen Gosling would turn their focus to musician Leon Russell, filming at his recording studio on Grand Lake in Oklahoma.
Shooting many hours of footage of Leon Russell in concerts, rehearsals and interviews, the film would also capture the mood and surroundings but also capturing people in the area of that time period.
But unlike music documentaries that would solely feature on an artist, the film would feature on the people of Oklahoma, underground artist Jim Franklin (who was painting a mural in Russell’s empty swimming pool) and also capturing music and life of that era.
But unfortunately, despite Les Blank putting a lot of his time and effort in creating the film “A Poem is a Naked Person”, due to a disagreement between Leon Russell and Les Blank, the film would never receive a major release.
In fact, it was only released via a few free screenings due to a loophole, that allowed Les Blank to show the film for free, if he was present.
Fastfoward 40 years later, as Les Blank was dying of bladder cancer, he always wanted “A Poem is a Naked Person” to be screened and thanks to his son, documentary filmmaker Harrod Blank, he would receive permission from Leon Russell to screen the film.
While a few edits were made and Harrod keeping to his father’s promise to remaster the film, “A Poem is a Naked Person” would be screened but unfortunately, Les Blank would die of cancer.
But the film would receive critical acclaim four decades later and many consider the film to be Les Blank masterpiece.
And with the release of “A Poem is a Naked Person” from the Criterion Collection, the film is no doubt a unique time capsule of life in Oklahoma but also watching Leon Russell and friends performing and rehearsing. And because of the many people featured and the diversity of the mesmerizing scenes utilizing vérité realism and also diverting from usual musical documentary footage by interviewing non-musicians and giving viewers a perspective from that time period during the early ’70s.
Aside from concert and rehearsals, its interesting to hear locals old and young who are into the music of Leon Russell, also because of its time period, seeing little remnants of the hippie movement, to seeing a snake crush a chick, the demolition of a building, a celebration in a small town, country music legend George Jones performing and much more!
The film is no doubt a treasure trove of yesteryear musically and culturally and its wonderful to see this film released, remastered and looking wonderfully in HD.
There are no problems with picture quality nor any issues with its lossless audio.
But this Criterion Collection Blu-ray release is not only a celebration of the film, the musical career of Leon Russell or this work of Les Blank, but the special features included, also puts into perspective of why this film was important for Les Blank and the hurt and healing that took place within those 40-years until its release.
Overall, “A Poem is a Naked Person” is wonderful documentary that I enjoyed because of its variety of coverage and people feature. In a way, it’s a hybrid of what you expect from a music and non-music documentary, but an interesting look at the music of Leon Russell but also the sign of the times courtesy of filmmaker Les Blank.
Intimate, casual and intriguing, Les Blank’s “A Poem is a Naked Person” is recommended!
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