A Poem Is A Naked Person

Film, Documentaries
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A Poem Is A Naked Person

A remarkable rediscovered documentary portrait of the great Leon Russell

This long-lost Leon Russell doc was shot between 1972 and 1974, but has been buried for more than 40 years – after the country-rock legend baulked at the finished product. Now it’s been lovingly remastered by director Les Blank’s son (after he connected with Russell on Facebook). The movie hasn’t just been worth the wait; it’s been transformed by it. In the ’70s, this would have been an unusually intimate tour portrait. Now, it’s a newly unearthed time capsule.

It’s immediately clear that Blank was less interested in Russell than in the vibrant community that orbited around him (there’s a reason why the musician’s name is missing from the film’s title). The director is smitten with artist Jim Franklin, seen sweeping out an empty swimming pool of baby scorpions so he can paint a huge mural. Elsewhere, Blank’s attention is seduced by a controlled demolition in Tulsa and a glass-eating parachute enthusiast (rumoured to be the elusive plane hijacker DB Cooper).

There’s enough concert footage here to please diehard fans, but Blank is more attuned to the sweat and musk of each performance than to the songs. One moment, his camera is perching on Russell’s shoulder as he pounds out the honky-tonk piano melody of ‘Tight Rope’; the next, it steals a close-up of the unembarrassed ecstasy of someone in the crowd. Maybe big-bearded Russell was annoyed that the film turned out to be an ode to his scene rather than a testament to his genius. Or maybe, in the years since, he’s learned to appreciate how richly Blank could see his universe because he wasn’t blinded by a star.

By: David Ehrlich

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Release details

Release date: Friday July 8 2016
Duration: 90 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Les Blank
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