A Poem is a Naked Person – Review

Looking back at the past with a wispy eyed nostalgia may have people living in a dreamlike yesteryear, especially when it comes to music. From Queen to The Who, Led Zeppelin to Janice Choplin, the seventies is one such year that provokes the most earnest of music fans to wail and scream; “That’s the best year for tunes.”

Arguably, the seventies was the best decade (apart from a few wars here or there) and artistically, the melodies created were damn near perfection. So much so that I bet your parents still talk about it, don’t they? (Jeez, god, Dad, just shut up and let me listen to Fall Out Boy.)

Anyway, filmmakers still try to capture that essence of the seventies including the recent Shane Black hysterical comedy noir The Nice Guys. But the best way to tell the story of the music and the seventies is to see a documentary, filmed at the time, about a popular musician of said time. That perfect movie would be A Poem is A Naked Person.

Filmed by the late Les Blank who died before the film was released and therefore we’ve waited nearly thirty years for its release is an intricate, delicate, and joyous film that lets us into the world of Russell. The film follows his tour and takes a look at his like in and around his recording studio in northeast Oklahoma, interviewing friends and family of the star.

At this time in our lives, we are used to a touring movie. If someone wants to earn a few couple of bucks on a sell-out tour and their expensive merchandise then they’ll record said tour and charge their fans cinema tickets to see it (or have fans who couldn’t afford the concert prices actually see the music somewhat live.) Regardless of the reason, nearly every artist with a sniff of fame has had these movies made about them and the practise is somewhat tiring. Every so often a movie comes along that is a beautiful vignette of an artist and A Poem is a Naked Person is an honouring of Russell in every way possible.

Blank’s work now is imbued with classical filmmaking aesthetics that help enhance the cinematic portrait of Russell on the big screen. The camera is not trying to catch spectacle shows and larger than life personalities, it’s a friend and an ally with Russell, nesting into his home and work and trying to translate that to the big screen. Blank works to move the audience with the musicians work and life which is spectacularly done here. It’s soothing, graceful, open, and intimate, allowing you to relive the world of Russell and the seventies era that enveloped him.

Though A Poem is a Naked Person suffers from the tedium practically all documentaries suffer from, the illuminating Russell is caught unequivocally on the big screen here. It is a honest and sublime film: An intimate portrayal of a wonderful musician, this film became something of a cult phenomenon owing to its late release and now we all get to see it.


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