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A Poem is a Naked Person

A Poem is a Naked Person

As he appears in “A Poem Is a Naked Person” — a documentary made in the early ’70s and now receiving a belated and welcome United States theatrical release — Leon Russell is an enigma wrapped in a mystery and wearing his signature top hat. With silver hair and an air of sagacity belying his youth at the time (he was born in 1942), Mr. Russell seems to have sprung from the commingled imaginations of J. R. R. Tolkien and Mark Twain. He’s a wizard and a mountebank, an old-timey song-and-dance man dabbling in ancient magic.

This film, commissioned by Mr. Russell and directed by Les Blank, is among other things a strange and gorgeous artifact of its moment. Happily indifferent to the conventions of its genre, it’s neither the record of a concert nor a talking-head-driven biography. Some wonderful performances are captured — from a clean-shaven Willie Nelson and a bewitching fiddler named Sweet Mary Egan — and a lot of grandiose wisdom is dropped, but Mr. Blank is more dreamer than journalist, less interested in empirical information than in intuitive and ecstatic forms of truth.

The result is a poetic exploration of a moment, a place and an artist. Mr. Russell and his colleagues are recording and performing in Oklahoma, and as their music evokes an eclectic, regionally specific set of traditions — country and western, rhythm and blues, string bands and gospel choirs — Mr. Blank’s camera and sound equipment capture the faces and voices of local residents.

Filmed over three years, “A Poem Is a Naked Person” was Mr. Blank’s first feature, and a vital part of a unique and durable body of work. Perhaps best known for “Burden of Dreams,” a chronicle of cinematic folly and artistic ambition featuring his friend Werner Herzog, Mr. Blank, who died in 2013, was a playful, disciplined observer of creativity and the pursuit of pleasure. (“Always for Pleasure” is the name of one of his films.) He made movies about music, food and dance, but “about” doesn’t do justice to his vision and sensibility.

“A Poem Is a Naked Person” is a collaboration between filmmaker and subject, a sprawling, easily distracted jam session in which the camera functions as part of the ensemble. Not everyone who appears on screen is identified, and quite a bit goes unexplained. The mellow vibe is occasionally disrupted by some heavier stuff, like a testy encounter between Mr. Russell and the singer-songwriter Eric Andersen and a fatal encounter between a chicken and a snake. The meeting of Mr. Russell and Mr. Blank is more fortunate, and the audience has the pleasure of watching each man find his groove.

 

— A. O. Scott, New York Times

A Poem is a Naked Person

Sun October 11, 2015, 7:30 only, Muenzinger Auditorium

USA, 1974, English, Color, 90min, 1.33:1,NR

recommend

Tickets

10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.

Parking

Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.

RTD Bus

Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

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