Les Blank died on Sunday.
The 77-year-old documentary film maker blazed a mark on his genre with his quirky, offbeat and poetic vision — one that suited him for life in Berkeley where he made his home for 30 years.
It was there, in his home in the hills, that he died of stomach cancer, his son Harrod Blank reported.
but also made tributes to gap-toothed women…
and garlic eaters…
and even fellow filmmaker Werner Herzog’s attempt to eat a shoe.
All this came about when Blank decided he wasn’t cracked up to become a writer, he explains in this March 13, 2012 interview on The Lip TV’s BYOD:
Here is The Associated Press obituary:
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Les Blank, an acclaimed documentary maker who focused his camera on cultural corners ranging from blues music, to garlic lovers, to shoe-eating artists, died Sunday at age 77, his son said.
Blank died at his home in Berkeley, Calif. nearly a year after being diagnosed with bladder cancer, Harrod Blank said.
Blank’s 42 films earned him a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute.
“I think he’s a national treasure,” filmmaker Taylor Hackford, president of the Directors Guild of America, told the New York Times. “Although his films are not well known at the moment, they’ll take their place”
The Florida-born Blank’s early documentaries focused on musicians, including 1965’s “Dizzy Gillespie” and “The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins,” a portrait of the Texas bluesman that won Blank his first wide renown.
He shifted to food with documentaries like 1980’s “Garlic is as Good as 10 Mothers,” and 2007’s “All in This Tea.”
Blank was known for following his curiosity anywhere. No topic was too strange — or too ordinary. His 1987 film “Gap-Toothed Women” was a series of interviews on the subject spurred by an old high school crush.
“If he was interested in gap-toothed women, he’s going to make a film about it. If he wants to make a film about garlic because he loves to eat garlic, he’s going to do it,” said Harrod Blank, who is also a filmmaker.
But the subject that led to Blank’s most memorable work was fellow filmmaker Werner Herzog.
In 1979’s “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe,” Blank chronicled Herzog’s attempt to dine on his boot, the result of a lost bet.
And “Burden of Dreams,” Blank’s 1982 behind-the-scenes view of Herzog’s disastrous filming of “Fitzcarraldo” in the Peruvian jungle, became a classic chronicle of artistic obsession.
“If I abandon this project, I would be a man without dreams,” Blank films Herzog saying in the film. “I don’t want to live like that,”