Les Blank

Among American cinema’s most singular and prolific figures, Les Blank (1935–2013) is known for his intimate, idiosyncratic, and poetic glimpses into the lives of those on the peripheries of American society. The San Francisco Bay Area director’s most widely seen film is 1982’s BAFTA-winning Burden of Dreams, a feature documentary that captures German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s perilous shooting of the feature Fitzcarraldo in the Peruvian Amazon. Blank’s work is dominated by freewheeling films about the music, food, and cultures of specific regions of the United States. Other career highlights include The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968), Spend It All (1971), A Well Spent Life (1971), Dry Wood (1973), Hot Pepper (1973), Always for Pleasure (1978), Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980), and The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists (1994). In June 2011, the Museum of Modern Art in New York honored Blank with a two-week retrospective. A collection of his films, Les Blank: Always for Pleasure, was released on Blu-ray and DVD by the Criterion Collection in 2014. He considered the posthumously released A Poem Is a Naked Person his masterpiece.


1960   Running Around Like a Chicken with Its Head Cut Off
1961   Strike!
1962   Freedom Came!?
1964   Dizzy Gillespie
1967   Christopher Tree
1968   The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins
1969   The Arch
1969   The Sun’s Gonna Shine
1970   Chicken Real
1971   Spend It All
1971   A Well Spent Life
1973   Dry Wood
1973   Hot Pepper
1974   A Poem Is a Naked Person
1976   Chulas Fronteras
1978   Always for Pleasure
1979   Del Mero Corazon
1979   Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe
1980   Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers
1982   Burden of Dreams
1983   Sprout Wings and Fly
1984   In Heaven There Is No Beer?
1985   Cigarette Blues
1986   Huey Lewis and the News: Be-Fore!
1987   Gap-Toothed Women
1987   Ziveli! Medicine for the Heart
1988   Ry Cooder Group ’88 in Santa Cruz
1989   J’ai été au bal / I Went to the Dance
1990   Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking
1991   Innocents Abroad
1991   Julie: Old Time Tales of the Blue Ridge
1991   Marc and Ann
1991   Puamana
1994   The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists
1994   My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge
1995   Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella
2005   The Maestro Rides Again!
2007   All in This Tea
2014   How to Smell a Rose

Leon Russell

Leon Russell’s music is influenced equally by rock, country, and gospel traditions. Born in southwestern Oklahoma in 1942, Russell began piano lessons at age four and was playing in Tulsa nightclubs by fourteen. As a session musician, he has worked with many of the top figures in the business, including the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Elton John, the Monkees, Willie Nelson, Gram Parsons, the Ronettes, and others. In 1970, he recorded his first solo album, Leon Russell, which was released by Shelter Records, the label he started with producer Denny Cordell. In the four decades since, Russell has continued to write songs and perform, and has released over twenty albums. Russell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. His most recent album, Life Journey, came out in 2014.

Maureen Gosling

A filmmaker for over forty years, Maureen Gosling has worked variously as a director, producer, editor, sound recordist, and distributor. Her films have been shown in festivals around the world; broadcast on American national public and cable television, and on television in Europe, Australia, Latin America, and Asia; and distributed widely to educational institutions. She is best known for her twenty-year collaboration with Les Blank on more than two dozen documentaries, including Burden of Dreams and A Poem Is a Naked Person (her second film with Blank), on which she served as sound recordist and assistant editor. Gosling’s recent work includes coproducing, codirecting (with Chris Simon), and editing the 2013 film This Ain’t No Mouse Music!, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and won audience awards at Toronto’s Hot Docs Festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival in Marin County, California.

Harrod Blank

Les Blank’s son Harrod Blank is an artist and filmmaker, trained on the job by his father from an early age. He is known for his work with art cars, making them and also documenting them on film. A cofounder of the annual San Francisco Bay Area event ArtCar Fest, Blank has been building Art Car World, a museum in Douglas, Arizona, since 2005. He has been working for twenty-five years on an epic film project about the Burning Man festival, on which his father served as a cinematographer. Since Les Blank’s death in 2013, Harrod Blank has been running the nonprofit Les Blank Films to continue his father’s legacy, including the restoration, remastering, and release of A Poem Is a Naked Person.

Jim Franklin

Born in Galveston, Texas, the painter, illustrator, and underground cartoonist Jim Franklin is memorably featured in A Poem Is a Naked Person, painting the bottom of the recording studio’s swimming pool. After studying at the San Francisco Art Institute and living briefly in New York, he returned to Texas, settling in Austin and eventually opening the art venue Armadillo World Headquarters, named after the animal that had become his artistic trademark. Franklin, known for his murals, posters, and comics, remains an art-world fixture in Austin to this day.