Screened as part of NZIFF 2015
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Pianist, producer, songwriter (‘Delta Lady’, ‘Song for You’) and singer Leon Russell was a Wrecking Crew session player (see The Wrecking Crew) who shot to fame when he appeared in the Joe Cocker concert film Mad Dogs and Englishmen in 1970. A blond, long-haired music professional from Oklahoma, his piano style fused boogie, blues and country to vamp up Cocker’s full-out rock revue style. He was an unlikely subject for folk-arts laureate Les Blank, but that’s who Russell chose to make this film portrait. Though the film Blank delivered in 1974 contains storming performances from Russell, along with appearances from a young Willie Nelson and a drop-dead rendition of ‘Take Me’ from George Jones, it’s as engagingly distracted by peripheral action and personalities as any Blank film. Russell opted not to release it. Blank’s son Harrod has at last cleared the rights and worked with the Criterion Collection to produce this beautiful HD transfer.
“One of the greatest rock documentaries I’ve ever seen, as eloquent an evocation of the reality-distortion field around rock stars as D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back or Robert Frank’s Cocksucker Blues, but funnier and stranger than either. You can see why Russell wasn’t sure what to do with this movie; Blank doesn’t even pretend to be interested in explaining Russell to the world, and seems vaguely horrified by the whole shrieking freak-show gestalt of the live rock-music experience… But in skirting its actual subject, the movie becomes a fascinating time capsule of its moment.” — Alex Pappademas, Grantland