Who was Les Blank?
Les Blank was sort of the Hunter S. Thompson of the American documentary. Incredibly prolific, he made movies about the things that obsessed him. He loved food, so he made movies about food. He was attracted to people on the fringes of society, so he made films about them. He loved musicians, and is responsible for some of the best movies ever made about rock, jazz, country… even polka. Plus he loved crazy stunts. When Werner Herzog dragged a boat across the Amazon, Les Blank was there to make a film about it: Burden of Dreams. When he screened his documentary about the slow food movement, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, he toasted garlic at the back of the cinema to make the audience salivate. That’s what we call showmanship.
What’s Chulas Fronteras + Del Mero Corazón?
Chulas Fronteras is one of Les Blank’s most famous movies, even though it is rarely screened. In the 70’s, Les Blank traveled to the southern border of the U.S. because he started to get curious about Tejano music, but he ended up making a much more unusual and universal movie about how traditions are passed down through families, the role of music in political protest, and cross-cultural congress. For example, you see Lydia Mendoza, the famous Tex-Mex singer, cooking tamales with her children, and then singing “Mal Hombre” for a raucous crowd. It’s a priceless record of musicians who are no longer with us. And it’s screening with its follow-up, Del Mero Corazón, at Metrograph in a brand new 4k restoration.