Les Blank’s Musical Shorts at the Brooks 

If you could ask New Orleans' soul queen Irma Thomas one question, what would it be? Would you ask about the influence of funk pioneer Eddie Bo or about her recording for Chicago's Chess Records? Or would you ask what it was like watching the Rolling Stones turn "Time Is on My Side" into the hit single that should have been hers? If you're documentary filmmaker Les Blank, you ask the former New Orleans waitress how to make a proper pot of red beans. The generous answer Thomas gives in Blank's New Orleans documentary Always for Pleasure bubbles over with pure love. For Blank, a celebrated West Coast artist who lovingly chronicled a variety of American subcultures, music is sustenance, and good food is always something to sing and dance about. After watching one of his joyful films, you may come to believe that you cannot fully appreciate one of these things without the other.

click to enlarge Second line in New Orleans
  • Second line in New Orleans

The Brooks Museum of Art is screening a fantastic trio of Blank's short films as part of its American Quirk film series: A Well Spent Life, In Heaven There Is No Beer?, and Always for Pleasure, which also features New Orleans composer Allen Toussaint talking about the origins and evolution of second line dancing.

A Well Spent Life chronicles the hard life of Mance Lipscomb, a poor farmer and enthusiastic rabbit hunter who also happens to be among the greatest blues guitarists of all time. In Heaven There Is No Beer? is a celebration of Polish-American culture featuring Walt Solek, the Clown Prince of Polka, talking about his song of purloined sausage, "Who Stole the Kishka."


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