Viewers might think Les Blank's film A Poem is a Naked Person is solely about legendary piano player Leon Russell as he is featured prominently in the title and cover design. But the documentary is more an artifact capturing Oklahoma folk culture in the early 1970s. More specifically, it captures the hot hypnotic mess of hippie blues and booze that orbits Leon Russell, which may have caused Russell and Blank to argue about its release. Only recently has the film been distributed to a wide audience.
Fans of either the filmmaker or musician will enjoy this documentary, and I hope viewers new to both also watch it. Intimacy among friends isn’t easy to catch on film as it occurs in real time among people not acting to the camera. Here we see a filmmaker who knows how to seemingly disappear without losing his vision for his material. Is this a deceit, a slight moral failure of a documentarian? Perhaps this is the issue Russell had with the film: that it ultimately represents Les Blank rather than himself. Whatever the reason for the long delay, we’re lucky now to view this film. Les Blank was an astonishing filmmaker of American Roots music.