In Appreciation: Les Blank


American documentary filmmaker Les Blank died yesterday, Sunday, April 7 at the age of 77, victim of cancer. He had a prolific filmography, making 42 films in his a career than spanned over four decades.

Perhaps best known for his documentary films on filmmaker Werner Herzog Burden of Dreams (1982), where he followed the German filmmaker in the Peruvian Amazon where he was shooting his epic film Fitzcarraldo, and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1979), Blank nevertheless had a very rich and diverse film career which included some key documentaries on Latino musicians and culture including Chulas Fronteras (1976, pictured left), Del Mero Corazón (1979, pictured right) and Sworn To the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella (1995).

Les Blank’s films on Latino culture helped bring attention to popular forms of music like Tejano and Norteño music that were largely unknown in this country.

Chulas Fronteras is a pioneering documentary on the complexity of Tejano culture of the Texas-Mexican border featuring acclaimed Norteño musicians such as Flaco Jimenez Lydia Mendoza and Los Alegres de Terán.

Del Mero Corazón is lyrical journey through the heart of Chicano culture as reflected in the love songs of the Tex-Mex Norteña music tradition and features Little Joe & La Familia, Leo Garza, and Chavela Ortiz, among other musicians.

Sworn To the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella is a portrait of the acclaimed master Afro-Cuban master percussionist. Francisco Aguabella was born in Matanzas, Cuba, and he was a master of the Yoruba-derived bata drums and rumba form as well as contemporary traditions including Cuban son, salsa, and Latin jazz.