Les Blank Documentary: The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins
In 1968 independent filmmaker Les Blank made a beautiful documentary about Texas Blues musician Lightnin’ Hopkins called “The blues according to Lightnin’ Hopkins”. “Blank’s work offers intimate glimpses into the lives, culture and music of passionate people at the periphery of American Society” (lesblank.com).
Celebrating music as a mode of life
This documentary shows how the blues and living with the blues made Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lightnin’ Hopkins. Roger Greenspun wrote on December 21, 1970 for the New York Times a story about this documentary. “The Blues according To Lightnin’ Hopkins is as much a celebration of a mode of life as it is a study of a kind of music”. “Almost everyboy seems to be a performer. But Hopkins himself controls the film’s mood”.
Blank met his hero Lightnin’ Hopkins in a nightclub called the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, were like many other blues musicians also Hopkins performed. The blues seemed a good way for Blank to escape from problems like divorce and gave him a strong sense of connection to pain and suffering. After Lightnin’ performance, Blank went with his 16 MM projector camera backstage and gave him a copy of his film about Dizzy Gillespie. He asked Lightnin’ to go to his home in Texas and do a film on him. Lightnin’ was satisfied with the offer, and Les Blank was able to film Lightnin’ Hopkins in Texas.
The blues is about stories, and if one thing is sure after watching the documentary, that Lightnin’ Hopkins is a fantastic storyteller, he tells about meetings with the police, about what the blues is, and show how the blues should be played. You will be chained to the screen while watching this short movie. Hopkins is one of the best guitarist around and a fascinating person.
Filming the life of Lightnin’ Hopkins
When Les Blank went to Houston he find a place to stay at a friend´s apartment. With the help of local Folklorist John Lomax (the only white man lightnin’ was known to trust), he was able to immerse in the life and music of Hopkins. There is no other Blues musician that recorded so many songs as Lightnin’ Hopkins did.