ALWAYS FOR PLEASURE (1978) C 58m dir: Les Blank
w/Kid Thomas, Allen Toussaint, Blue Lu Barker, Irma Thomas, Henry "Professor Longhair" Byrd, Amos Landry, George Landry, Booker Washington, Sylvester Martin, Aaron Neville, Art Neville, Charles Neville, Cyril Neville, Deacon John Moore, Dr. John
From the Turner Classic Movies website (www.tcm.com), this article about the film by Michael Atkinson:
"Les Blank, who died in 2013 at 77, was probably the premier surveyor of the all-American fringe land --- which is to say, most of America, in distinct and eccentric slices. It was nearly a 50 year-long documentary career, modestly and exultantly observing American culture as it ferments and thrives largely beyond the mainstream media's gaze, and often in the weedy outskirts everyone but Blank, it seems, had forgotten. He was the filmmaker Werner Herzog liked to think of the American Werner Herzog --- which isn't a bad thumbnail, so long as you keep in mind Blank's rather unHerzogian disdain for dramatics and grandeur. Blank never reached for the uncanny --- he preferred the homemade. His films tellingly focus a lot on locale-specific food (he made the world's only serious documentary about garlic culture) and music (everything from blues to Appalachian, Cajun, Creole, polka, tamburitza, and Hawaiian, often documenting unsung performers who'd never been recorded before and never were again), and in a sense that's all you need to know about Blank and his vividly unpretentious movies --- he was a lover and an optimist, embracing the sensual pleasures of Americana and never paying much mind to deeper concerns.
"The perspective seems simple, but it has a philosophical, almost Buddhist caste to it when you look at Blank's overall achievement. Each film by itself can seem like a lark, a whimsically performed act of cinema, executed for no other reasons besides A) putting these wacky Americans on celluloid for posterity's sake, and B) fun. Always for Pleasure (1978) is prototypical, and potentially Blank's most exuberant film. An hour-long assemblage, the film drops down into some outer parishes of New Orleans in the springtime, when parade season leading up to Mardi Gras is in full swing. Typically, Blank isn't concerned with the full spectacle of the main line Mardi Gras parade, which we hardly glimpse. (There's next to no footage of the French Quarter.) Instead, he loiters on the 'second line' parades, the small, poor neighborhood galas performed for the sheer pleasure of it, as the New Orleaners of every race boogie, drink, dress up, cavort, and preen for his camera.
"Blank's visual strategy couldn't be more utilitarian: just shoot, zoom back to get the room or the street occasionally, look for the evocative close-up cutaways, and that's it. He loves the cultural details --- a 'jazz funeral' march (complete with slow backbeat dance steps and wailing trombones), the black locals' tradition of honoring the extinct Tchoupitoulas tribe (for aiding escaped slaves) by dressing up in their handmade versions of Native American ceremonial dress, the never-written-down lyrics of old songs handed down over generations, the traces of Santeria, the mix of natives and tourists. Naturally, the music never stops --- being forever an unreformed hippie, Blank's vision is of a multi-culti, goofy-hat, beer-can-in-every-hand, loose limbed party paradise. There is a single shot of Blank himself in the street, camera to eye --- and naturally he has flowers painted on his face. This film is the corrective to every film and news report about the desperation and woe of Southern poverty --- sure, it's there, Blank says, but there's also this, the uncrushed appetite for reckless fun, dancing and good eats.
"Speaking of which, there are helpful instructions, by local experts, on not only how to cook 30 pounds of crawfish at once (five pounds of dry cayenne pepper to start with) but how to properly eat the creatures. Blank does indulge the orthodox documentary habit of interviewing and observing celebrities, in this case musicians like Allen Toussaint, the Neville Brothers and Professor Longhair. But the emphasis is on the nameless citizens who flock to the streets high as kites, stand on the porches watching the party, and pause to hoof for Blank's friendly eye. No other documentary filmmaker was ever so welcoming of people waving at his camera.
"Always for Pleasure, like every Blank film, isn't about Blank; he's there merely as a facilitator, and his attention, even in the editing, is always turned outward, always respectful, always curious. So, of course, we get an acute sense of Blank himself, and he can be pretty lovable company. But his intention is to capture this current of American life, how it was, and this he does. You come away with an acute idea, shared by Blank, of New Orleans as one of the greatest American cities --- by virtue of its fermenting stew of humidity, decay, bustling and self-satisfying subcultures, crazy old money, ethnic-mix history, peculiar lust for hedonistic liberty, the fascinating collision between pagan and Christian traditions, and buoyant imaginative force. That's a lot for one little documentary to evoke, but Blank's film does it without needing to 'go deep' or give us an exhaustive portrait. Blank knows no one can sum up a city, particularly not this city, in one film, and no one should ever try. Instead, he's slicing into the meat pie, and offering us a piece."