At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

LEON RUSSELL: A POEM IS A NAKED PERSON (Criterion) 1974.

By • Apr 3rd, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

85% on the (Rotten) Tomato-meter. I’m glad for all involved. But I wouldn’t have voted it nearly that high. I think its demeaning to the rural people it captures on film who come across not so much as colorful rednecks then as morons. I think it looks down on Russell and his cohorts, and worst of all, it makes us appallingly aware of itself (aka Les Blank) as cleverer and more creative than his subject. I watched it in a kind of pain, since I knew Russell was one of the producers, probably an investor, and must have had very different hopes for the film’s outcome. As for Blank, this was early in his career, and it gives no indication whatsoever of any future talent, vision, and technical expertise he might accrue. But it does display a mean-spirited nature. Not surprising that it lay moldering in the can for forty years. Gimme The Maysles any day.

It is one of DVD/BluRay’s supreme gifts that, organized by producers willing to go the extra miles in search of telling supplementals, the entire package can alchemize into something more worthy than the main feature released alone. 74 years old and shrouded in white, (still very much an Alejandro Jodorowsky clone, as he was forty years ago), Russell, interviewed by Blank’s son, Harrod, enunciates the reasons why he stopped the film in its tracks. Befriended by Harrod, Russell never changed his opinions about the film, but was persuaded to finally let it see the light of day. And it’s only with the two films together – the original doc and the Russell/Blank 2015 interview, that A POEM IS A NAKED PERSON becomes palatable and whole. See them in that order. The very sight of the singer as he looks today, and his lucid evisceration of the deceased director’s work, is a profound experience.

Taken alone, I would never recommend A POEM. There are some good musical performances captured, and it’s nice to see Eric Anderson. Period. The snake and the chicken thing, and the guy eating glass…I could barely keep my finger away from the fast-forward function. Together with the supplementals, however, it’s a highly recommended experience. There should be a list of how many mediocre films have been made worthy by the extent of their packaging. The number would be surprising.

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