Berkeley documentary filmmaker Les Blank who is to be honored with a proclamation at this week’s City Council meeting

Update, 9:10 p.m.: Les Blank was able to attend the City Council meeting and heard the proclamation that was made about him. He was accompanied by his son Harrod Blank and many friends showed up to support him. Berkeleyside’s Emilie Raguso was at the meeting and posted the photo below to Twitter and on our Facebook page (where there’s also video of Harrod Blank addressing the Council.)

Original story: “Les Blank is one of the best documentary filmmakers in America,” says Susan Wengraf, councilwoman for district 6 in Berkeley, who plans to present Blank with a proclamation at tonight’s meeting of the City Council.

Blank, who has lived in Berkeley for 35 years, and whose company Flower Films, is based in El Cerrito, may not be able to attend the meeting at which he will be honored, however, as he is very ill. (On Monday, Blank’s son Harrod told friends he hoped his father would be there.)

Wengraf, who has know the filmmaker for nearly 40 years, says she is crossing her fingers Blank will be there, but she takes comfort from the fact that an informal proclamation was made at a recent screening of clips of Blank’s films. Many of his friends were there and Blank answered questions from the audience. “Harrod said it made him very happy and lifted his spirits,” Wengraf says.

Many of Blank’s films focus on American traditional music and its cultural context. He has covered the blues, Appalachian, Cajun, Creole, Tex-Mex, polka, tamburitza, and Hawaiian musics. “His movies are very, very full of life. He has this way of getting people in his films to reveal themselves,” says Wengraf. “It’s really quite amazing. They expose you to things and to music you wouldn’t ordinarily know.”

Texas bluesman ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins, the subject of a documentary by Les Blank

Wengraf cites The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins as one of her favorites. Others include Chulas Fronteras, a documentary about the music of the Mexican community on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border, particularly of migrant farmers, made in 1976. Many of Blank’s films represent the only filmed record of musicians who have passed away.

In 1980, Blank chronicled the wild days of the Berkeley food revolution centered in the Gourmet Ghetto in Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, a film that featured ocasional Berkeleyside contributor John Harris who wrote about the film and Blank in September.

Blank also made two films about German director Werner Herzog: Werner Herzog Eats his Shoe, a short in which Herzog and Erol Morris make a bet which results in Herzog being forced to eat his own shoe; and Burden of Dreams (1982), a documentary on the chaotic production of Herzog’s epic Fitzcarraldo.

The proclamation, states: “With a soft spoken demeanor, an eye for beauty, an insightful mind and great enthusiasm, Les Blank has captured the essence of aspects of American culture,” and “through his respectful, quiet presence, and non-didactic style created films that allow his subjects to reveal their true selves in a unique way.”

The proclamation for Les Blank will be made during ceremonial matters at the beginning of Berkeley’s City Council meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday Jan. 22. at the old City Hall. If Blank is there, he will arrive at around 6:30 pm and will be either inside of the chamber or outside in the hall, according to Harrod Blank, who said this may very well be his father’s last public appearance.

Les Blank was able to attend the City Council meeting on Jan. 22 at which a proclamation was presented on his behalf. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Berkeley’s garlicky food revolution: Stories within stories [09.04.12]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...