Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spend It All (1971)

WHO: The late, great Les Blank directed this.

WHAT: Some critics, curators, and historians try to group Les Blank's documentaries into three categories: the music films typified by The Blues Accordin' To Lightnin' Hopkins and Chulas Fronteras, the food films such as Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers and All In This Tea, and the "everything else" films like Burden of Dreams and Gap-Toothed Women. In truth, all of his films that I've seen (not the entire catalog, but a good-sized selection) are rich in scenes depicting the preparation and/or consumption of food. They all prominently feature music, usually by accomplished 'folk' or 'roots' musicians. And they all contain a great deal of "everything else". 

Spend It All, one of Blank's (in Max Goldberg's words) "city symphonies set to the languid pace of Cajun country" is exemplary of this. If I had to classify it in one of the three categories I wouldn't know how to choose. There's plenty of  music, performed by fiddlers and accordionists like The Balfa BrothersNathan Abshire and Marc Savoy, a familiar face in later Blank documentaries J'ai Été au Bal, Yum, Yum, Yum!: A Taste of Cajun and Creole Cooking and Marc and Ann. There's plenty of food, too, with copious scenes of shellfish, crustaceans, and even coffee being prepared Louisiana-style. But there's a lot of "everything else" as well: shots of young (and younger) jockeys at a country horse racing track, for example. And most poignantly for a film screening so soon after its maker's death, we get a tour of a brushy cemetery, including a shot of a tombstone engraved with a common Cajun name very similar to his own: "LeBlanc".

WHERE/WHEN: San Francisco International Film Festival screenings tonight at 7:00 at New People and 8:45 Friday at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

WHY: Spend It All is part of a three-film tribute to Les Blank, who was known to be dying of cancer when the SFIFF announced these screenings last month, and who indeed succumbed a week later. The set of three rarely-seen shorts includes two not featured in last summer's PFA retrospective: the 1967 Christopher Tree, which Blank photographed and edited but is not credited with directing, and Chicken Real, Blank's own favorite of the sometimes-subversive industrial films he made for hire, early in his career, for various American companies including Shakey's Pizza, Smucker's Jam, and in this case factory farming pioneer Holly Farms

Blank's son and fellow filmmaker Harrold is expected to attend the screenings.

HOW: All three films will screen in brand new 16mm prints of recent restorations by the Academy Film Archive.


  1. Brian: I am confident those of us who were lucky to have been at the first show Wednesday night had a memorable experience!

  2. Indeed. The intros by Jon Else, Mark Toscano and Harrod Blank were lovely.