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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Les Blank: Always For Pleasure [Blu-ray]

 

(Les Blank, 1968-1995)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Flower Films

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #737

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Sample Runtime (one film): 0:44:19.823 

Disc One Size: 29,348,228,776 bytes

Disc Two Size: 47,130,252,968 bytes

Disc Three Size: 48,220,337,127 bytes

Sample Film Size: 6,283,395,072 bytes

Video Bitrate: 23.79 Mbps

Chapters: 10

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: November 25th, 2014

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

New 2K digital restorations of all fourteen films—The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968 - 31:33); God Respects Us When We Work, but Loves Us When We Dance (1968 - 20:29); Spend It All (1971 - 43:16); A Well Spent Life (1971 - 44:19); Dry Wood (1973 - 37:18); Hot Pepper (1973 - 54:40); Always for Pleasure (1978 - 57:40); Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980 - 50:39); Sprout Wings and Fly (1983 - 30:50); In Heaven There Is No Beer? (1984 - 49:21); Gap-Toothed Women (1987 - 31:13); Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking (1990 - 30:57); The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists (1994 - 53:18); Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella (1995 - 34:33)—with uncompressed monaural or stereo soundtracks on the Blu-rays
Excerpt from Les Blank: A Quiet Revelation, a film project by Harrod Blank and Gina Leibrecht (10:17)
New interviews with Blank’s sons, Harrod and Beau; Blank documentary subject Gerald Gaxiola (a.k.a. the Maestro - 12:31); Blank’s friends and collaborators Skip Gerson, Maureen Gosling, Taylor Hackford (10:04), Werner Herzog (10:01), Susan Kell, Tom Luddy, David Silberberg, and Chris Simon; and chef and author Alice Waters
Related shorts by Blank: The Sun’s Gonna Shine (1968 - 9:55), More Fess (1978), Julie: Old Time Tales of the Blue Ridge (1991 - 12:19), My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge (1994 - 17:30), and The Maestro Rides Again (2005 - 29:00)
Two outtake performances from The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (Mister Charlie - 7:55 + Lightning Les - 3:32)

Mak'in Lightning (8:39)

An Appreciation by Taylor Hackford (10:04)

An Appreciation by Werner Herzog (10:01)

Flower Power (Skip Gerson, Harrod Blank, 6:19)

No Man Like Mance (13:15 - Chris Strachwitz)

Meeting Mance (7:14)

A Cultural Celebration (18:29)

Lagniappe (25:25)

Celebrating a City (10:13)

For the Love of Garlic (10:30)

Remembering Les (10:27)

My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge (17:30)

Julie: Old Time Tales of the Blue Ridge (12:19)

An Elemental Approach (5:24)

Polka Happiness (8:21)

Mind the Gap (10:51)

Marc and Les (6:41)

The Maestro Rides Again (29:00)

The Maestro (12:31)

Art For Art's Sake (6:58)

A Master Percussionist (10:13)
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Andrew Horton

 

Sample Bitrate:

 

 

 

Description: An uncompromisingly independent filmmaker, Les Blank made documentaries for nearly fifty years, elegantly disappearing with his camera into cultural spots rarely seen on-screen—mostly on the peripheries of the United States, but also occasionally abroad. Seemingly off-the-cuff yet poetically constructed, these films are humane, sometimes wry, always engaging tributes to music, food, and all sorts of regionally specific delights. This collector’s set provides a diverse survey of Les Blank’s vast output, including fourteen of his best-known works and eight related short films.

 

 

The Man:

Most of his films focused on American traditional music forms, including (among others) blues, Appalachian, Cajun, Creole, Tex-Mex, polka, tamburitza, and Hawaiian music. Many of these films represent the only filmed documents of musicians who are now deceased.

Blank's films focusing on musical subjects often spent much of their running time focusing not on the music itself but on the music's cultural context, portraying the surroundings from which these American roots musics come.

Other notable films on non-musical subjects include a film about garlic and another about gap-toothed women, as well as two films about German film director Werner Herzog: Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980) and Burden of Dreams (1982), the latter about the filming of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. The Maestro; King of The Cowboy Artists (1995) and Sworn To The Drum (1995) were Blank's last two films using 16mm film. He later worked in digital video. His last film, All In This Tea, which was co-directed by Gina Leibrecht, was a profile of the western Marin County-based tea importer and adventurer David Lee Hoffman. In 2007 Blank was awarded the prestigious Edward MacDowell Medal in the Arts.

Excerpt from Wikipedia located HERE

Les Blank (1935-2013), is a renowned independent filmmaker, whose poetic work offers intimate, idiosyncratic glimpses into the lives, culture, and music of passionate people at the periphery of American society. Topics have included Cajun, Mexican, Polish, Hawaiian, and Serbian-American music and food traditions, Afro-Cuban drummers, Texas bluesmen, Appalachian fiddlers, flower children, garlic, and gap-toothed women.

Blank is perhaps best known for his feature-length “Burden of Dreams” (1982), documenting the chaotic production of Werner Herzog’s 1982 film “Fitzcarraldo” in the jungles of South America. Honored with a Criterion DVD edition and winner of the British Academy Award, Roger Ebert called the film “one of the most remarkable documentaries ever made about the making of a movie.”

Excerpt from Les Blank.com located HERE

 

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Les Blank: Always For Pleasure comes to Blu-ray (x3 disc) with thanks to Criterion. The image quality belies the original 16mm productions and is advertised as a 'New 2K digital restorations of all fourteen films'. I think they look great. Colors show depth and the overall appearance extends beyond the production limitations showing wonderful grain and texture. I saw hardly any damage or marks at all. The visuals seems a solid, and impressive, representation - and that is all we can ask. They, predictably, improve the newer they are. This Blu-ray has no discernable flaws and supplies a surprisingly strong 1080P presentation considering the elements.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Criterion remain authentic offering a linear PCM mono track at 1152 kbps. It sounds as good as the productions supply. Some of the music touches upon depth and it is reasonably clean and as consistent as one could have hoped. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified the three Blu-ray discs as being a region 'A'-locked.

 

Extras :

Criterion offer a massive amount of supplements - many done by Criterion themselves this year. I'll be honest - I am only about 3/4 the way through these extensive extras. I actually don't want the journey to end, so I have been delaying and revisiting some of the earlier supplements. Highlights include additional videos with each of the 14 films. There's a 10-minute excerpt from Les Blank: A Quiet Revelation, a film project by Harrod Blank and Gina Leibrecht that I found very valuable. Criterion have added new interviews with Blank’s sons, Harrod and Beau; Blank documentary subject Gerald Gaxiola; Blank’s friends and collaborators Skip Gerson, Maureen Gosling, Taylor Hackford, Werner Herzog, Susan Kell, Tom Luddy, David Silberberg, and Chris Simon; and chef and author Alice Waters. I've documented them individually (although they do cross-over plenty!) below the listed extras at the beginning of the review. There are plenty of related shorts by Blank and, often, collaborators: The Sun’s Gonna Shine (1968 - 9:55), More Fess (1978), Julie: Old Time Tales of the Blue Ridge (1991 - 12:19), My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge (1994 - 17:30), and The Maestro Rides Again (2005 - 29:00) as well as two outtake performances from The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (Mister Charlie - 7:55 + Lightning Les - 3:32. ) I was keen on the 2X10-minute (each) appreciations by Taylor Hackford and Werner Herzog. There are hours worth of very appealing pieces on the specific film or Les Blank himself. Very rewarding stuff. The Criterion package includes one of their liner notes booklets - this one featuring an essay by film scholar Andrew Horton.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
This is the release of the year, IMO. This package just never stops giving. Les Blank: Always for Pleasure is a pure treasure. I will be revisiting these masterpieces for the rest of my days.  Criterion's Blu-ray X 3 package has gone the extra mile (an understatement!) with so much value it is almost indescribable. Our highest recommendation! Don't let this one get away... 

Gary Tooze

November 17th, 2014

 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

Gary's Home Theatre:

60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
Marantz SA8001 Super Audio CD Player
Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze

 

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