737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

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RagingNoodles
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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#26 Post by RagingNoodles » Tue Nov 18, 2014 9:41 am

Great DVDBeaver review. So excited about this release. Happy to see they interviewed Strachwitz as well.

I asked Maureen Gosling about A Poem is A Naked Person, she told me this. I hope Harrod is able to finally get the rights, and hopefully we can see another Criterion release down the line:

"Harrod Blank, Les' son who took on Les' business after Les passed away, has had a mission to try to tie up all the loose ends in all the films. Especially the ones we had problems with like the Leon Russell film and the Ry Cooder film (Ry Cooder Group ’88 in Santa Cruz). So Harrod is now having conversations with Leon and has been meeting with him. He's actually making some progress. I saw Leon with Harrod one time when he was here in Oakland and it was kind of wonderful to see him after all these years. I avoided seeing him for 25, 30 years. We caught his concert in Oakland and went to his tour bus. We stayed there for like 45 minutes. He was very funny and kind of wry. So that was like breaking the ice. Harrod is still trying to make things work out with Leon, which would be a wonderful ending to this story because Les wasn't able to do it."

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#27 Post by zedz » Wed Nov 19, 2014 2:07 am

Wow, that's a breakthrough (and a film) I never expected to see in this lifetime.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#28 Post by RagingNoodles » Tue Nov 25, 2014 5:34 am

This is a conversation piece I did with Maureen Gosling for The Monitor newspaper of McAllen, TX. Some of the Blank fans on here probably already know some of this, and some is just pretty much basic information, but there might be a thing or two on here that might be new to you.

EM: How did you and Les Blank first meet?

MG: I was going to school in Ann Arbor and I found out that there was a festival of anthropological films. I got very excited because I was a film fanatic, especially watching foreign films. So I ended up going to this festival at Temple University in Philadelphia. I think two or three of Les' films were showing there. I just thought they were beautiful and very poetic. I believe that included The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968), A Well Spent Life (1971) and Spend It All (1971). So I got my nerve up and talked to Les at a party, just asked him if he ever got reviews of his films, when he screened them in film festivals. I knew he was going to be showing films at a film festival in Ann Arbor. He said, "Yes sometimes the films get reviewed." I told him I'd send him the reviews.

So I did and he started to write to me. I was just ecstatic. Here I was, this little student graduating from her university and here was this seasoned filmmaker writing to me. I was sort of starstruck. At one point I asked him if he ever needed an assistant, I didn't really know what that meant but I figured he would tell me what to do (laughs). In about November he was saying that he had this film coming up and he was deciding whether or not to even do it. I kind of convinced him to go ahead and do it. He asked me to be his assistant because his film partner (Skip Gerson), who he had made two or three films with, was living with Les' ex-wife, so he was all upset. Suddenly he didn't have a sound recordist anymore and he didn't have his best friend anymore. So he took me on, even though I didn't know anything. It was very much a trial by fire, and the first film we did was in Southwest Louisiana. The result was Dry Wood (1973) and Hot Pepper (1973).

EM: Why was it split into two and what were your contributions to those early works?

MG: We ended up making it into two films because one of the sections seemed to focus more on (Zydeco accordionist) Clifton (Chenier). The other part focused on the Fontenot family, that was connected with (Creole accordionist) Bois-Sec Ardoin. They sort of lived near each other and it was hard to figure out how to integrate those two stories. In the Fontenot family, the mother Eva, was this very strong personality and she really stood out to me. We didn't do that many interviews with people but I know that I told Les that we should interview Eva. Her interview is featured in the film. We see her cooking, talking about her family, and so forth. You can hear my voice in the background asking questions. I was really interested in what women thought, women's point of view. That was one of the things I did, I really was just learning on the job at that point.

I always felt like I was doing things wrong because Les didn't tell me when I was doing it right. He would just complain when I was doing it wrong. I felt like I was getting worse because he was criticizing me so much. At one point I told him, "You have to tell me when I'm doing right because I keep feeling like I'm doing everything wrong." He didn't like the idea of having to give me positive feedback but I said, "You better do it or I'm going to keep screwing up." I was getting a real complex and he finally started to do it, very begrudgingly. It really helped (laughs).

EM: I haven't seen the unreleased A Poem Is a Naked Person (1974), but my friend Tom has, and he asks: "What was it like working on something where Blank was contemptuous of the artist versus his other work?"

MG: Things started out fairly well with Leon Russell. The conversations that are in the film, between Leon and Les, were really early on in the process. You could hear that they are having an interesting conversation. But at a certain point, and I'm not really sure what the problem was, Les just kept trying to get Leon to sign a contract. And Leon didn't want to do it, he would disappear. There were some times, as the process went on, that there just became more of a tension between Les and Leon. There was one point when Les sort of drank too much and got to be a little obnoxious. We were on tour with them and they told us we should go home (laughs). They threw us out, basically. So we had to go back home. Somehow we managed to finish the film, but when it was all done, Leon didn't want it to be released. We never found out what the problem was.

Harrod Blank, Les' son who took on Les' business after Les passed away, has had a mission to try to tie up all the loose ends in all the films. Especially the ones we had problems with like the Leon Russell film and the Ry Cooder film (Ry Cooder Group ’88 in Santa Cruz). So Harrod is now having conversations with Leon and has been meeting with him. He's actually making some progress. I saw Leon with Harrod one time when he was here in Oakland and it was kind of wonderful to see him after all these years. I avoided seeing him for 25, 30 years. We caught his concert in Oakland and went to his tour bus. We stayed there for like 45 minutes. He was very funny and kind of wry. So that was like breaking the ice. Harrod is still trying to make things work out with Leon, which would be a wonderful ending to this story because Les wasn't able to do it.

EM: You're credited as the assistant editor to Chulas Fronteras (1976), which was partially shot here in the Rio Grande Valley. What was your experience like working on that production?

MG: I didn't go on the shoot but Les and Chris Strachwitz shot the film. Because I had been Les' assistant (in those early films), he called on me to be his assistant on Chulas Fronteras. I moved from Austin to Berkeley to do that. It was really a fascinating experience for me because we had just made these films about Creole folks, and Clifton Chenier, who was kind of overtly soulful. All these people getting down in the dance hall. Suddenly we were working on a film about these very quiet, dignified musicians like Los Alegres de Terán, who just stand there and sing. They don't jump around, they don't have big expressive motions. So it took me a while to get into the music. I wasn't that familiar with Mexican music, I'd live in the north and hadn't really heard it. I wasn't that crazy about it but the more I learned about the songs, the passion of the music, where the passion lies in the songs, I just started getting really fascinated. I grew to love the music very much.

With Strachwitz being such an aficionado, and so knowledgeable about the music and traditions, I felt like I learned so much. I was just an assistant, Les edited the film, and I thought it was so beautiful the way he put it together. The music combined with the scenes of the family, people doing work, and all this kind of stuff, I just thought it was such a beautiful piece. I also helped with the translations of the songs, which was really fun. That made me appreciate the music even more. That started my interest in Latino, Mexican, Mexican-American, Latin-American culture.

EM: Like that earlier production, this became two separate films, right?

MG: Chris Strachwitz couldn't handle leaving any of the good songs just sitting on the editing room floor. He just wanted to do something with the outtakes. I said, "Well I can put something together." And I looked at all the stuff that was left over and realized that they were mostly love songs. I thought, "Let's make something about the love songs." So Guillermo Hernandez, who helped us with Chulas Fronteras, helped me figure out how to put a film together about the love songs. We realized that it would be really nice to have a reference to some of the poetry in Mexican tradition. We got a woman (María Antonia Contreras) with a beautiful voice to read poems in-between the music. It kind of complimented the songs, and that became Del Mero Corazón, which is a half-an-hour film. I realized years later that I kind of directed that film because I had the idea. For me it was an opportunity, it was the first time I really got to edit something. Those films were really key to a foundation for what I ended up doing later, which was working on many Spanish-language films, making a film in Mexico, and so forth.

EM: Were there any films that you and Les would have loved to have done but the financing just wasn't there?

MG: Way back, Les was interested in doing a film on James Booker, who is an incredible New Orleans piano player. Someone did that recently (but Les wanted to do it) in the early 1980's. Another film that we talked about, that I would have loved, was a film about the African influence on music on the coasts of the Americas. I just thought that would have been incredible. In every country, especially near the coasts, there is a lot of African influence in the music.

EM: One of the more memorable sequences of In Heaven There Is No Beer? (1984) is the "Who Stole The Kishka" montage. Is that you making a cameo?

MG: Yeah (laughs). Yes and (Les' ex-wife and collaborator) Chris Simon is also in there, briefly.

It was a funny little thing that we did. That was unusual, not typical of what we would do.

EM: What's the story behind Blank, yourself, Simon and Susan Kell all getting equal "A Film By" credit at the beginning of Gap-Toothed Women (1986)?

MG: That is because every person did something of equal weight. Not only in giving feedback during the process but for example, Susan Kell interviewed all the women. She was basically the casting director and she figured out who should be in the film. Simon was involved in producing, she was also involved in the interviews, choosing who was to be in the film. It was a film about women, it would be unfair not to give proper credit to the women involved in the production. We all shared the weight of that film, and that's why everyone has a credit like that.

EM: Do you feel, having you, Simon and Kell involved helped the women being interviewed feel more comfortable about opening up about their ideas about this unique topic, as opposed to just having Les or other men do the interviews?

MG: Sure. You bet. Chris was married to Les at the time, she just wasn't sure what his motivation was to make this film about women. She just wanted to make sure that it was properly done. Sensitively done. And I felt that way too.

EM: For years, one could only buy Les' work through his website, or through Les himself, was there any particular reason why this was case?

MG: He started out by having other people distribute his films in the 60's, and he would get a check for $45.00 at the end of the year. He just said, "That's not acceptable, I know that there are people that are interested in this film, and would buy it. Clearly this company doesn't know how to distribute my films." He decided he better start doing it himself. I would say he's one of the first DIY filmmaking distributors, and it really worked because he could do niche marketing. He found the market for his films, and developed this incredible mailing list of universities, organizations, microcinemas, independent cinemas, festivals. He realized that he just needed to reach those communities. Nobody else was going to do it as well as he could because he had a lot of interest in promoting his own films. He didn't have to worry about other people's films. It really paid off, and he was actually quite successful doing self-distribution.

EM: Now that he's passed away, was it his son that made the deal with the Criterion Collection?

MG: I believe that Les did that before he passed away, and Harrod is following through with that. There are a few films that Criterion doesn't have. They don't have the films that Les did with Strachwitz, for example. Harrod still has the rights for 16 mm and broadcast, I think.

EM: Ah okay, yeah I also noticed Criterion wasn't releasing Marc and Ann (1991) in this collection.

MG: Oh, I'm not sure why that would be. That's interesting, I didn't even know that.

EM: Speaking of (Cajun accordionist) Marc (Savoy), one of the things I like about Les' work is that you see Marc grow up from the early 70's to the early 90's. You see the young accordionist develop into a spokesperson and authoritative voice for Cajun music and culture.

MG: It's true.

EM: And he comes out in your latest film This Ain't No Mouse Music (2013) as well, right? So between Les and you, it goes beyond the 90's.

MG: Yeah, he's also in our film. It's like that film Boyhood (2014), seeing this kid grow up. We've got Marc's boyhood (laughs).

I met Marc in 1972 when I first started working with Les, and I was just at his house like two weeks ago (laughs). Strachwitz is really close to the Savoys, and we're pretty close to them too. That's one of the by-products of making these kind of films, some of the amazing friendships you make. It's really cool.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#29 Post by zedz » Tue Nov 25, 2014 9:21 pm

Great interview. Thanks for sharing it!

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#30 Post by colinr0380 » Fri Nov 28, 2014 5:56 pm


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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#31 Post by domino harvey » Fri Nov 28, 2014 6:07 pm

I'm very excited to go through this set once it arrives from BN (was there any doubt my 30% off coupon was going towards this box?), anyone up for a film club-ish exploration of the films disc by disc? I'm a complete newbie to Blank (though he sounds right up my alley) but I am curious and eager to explore such a large collection of his works

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#32 Post by Bando » Fri Nov 28, 2014 11:56 pm

I'd be up for that. I too used my 30% off on this, can't wait to delve through it film by film. So much material to explore!

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#33 Post by zedz » Sat Nov 29, 2014 1:00 am

That sounds like a great idea. It's been years since I've seen most of these and I'm keen to see them again and see how other people respond to them.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#34 Post by RagingNoodles » Sat Nov 29, 2014 1:29 am

Thanks for the kind words zedz.

I'd be up for this to. I'm never been a part of a film club-type of deal, but I'll try my best. I can probably offer some context to some of the musicians that are documented. Going to get the set sometime this weekend.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#35 Post by domino harvey » Sat Nov 29, 2014 2:24 am

Cool, we should just weigh in on the films as we go through them (I'll prob be going in their order on the Blu-ray discs). The whole point of the Film Club anyways was/is to get people talking about the films Criterion releases and not just how they're releasing them (which is about 80% of every dedicated Crit thread in the last couple years), so I hardly think I'm stealing any thunder by suggesting it might be fun for some of us to experience these films in the same time frame so as to generate discussion / feedback.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#36 Post by movielocke » Sat Nov 29, 2014 11:58 am

domino harvey wrote:I'm very excited to go through this set once it arrives from BN (was there any doubt my 30% off coupon was going towards this box?), anyone up for a film club-ish exploration of the films disc by disc? I'm a complete newbie to Blank (though he sounds right up my alley) but I am curious and eager to explore such a large collection of his works
I'm down. Picked this up on Tuesday and plan on diving deep over holiday hiatus next month. I've wanted to see garlic is as good as ten mothers for years, mainly based on the title.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#37 Post by CSM126 » Sat Nov 29, 2014 2:58 pm

Snatched this up today and it literally fell apart in my hands. The outer case was fine, but the inner pack disintegrated in a cascade of plastic shards. How that happened is beyond me (again, the outer box was perfectly fine). Weird. Return trip to B&N, then. Sigh.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#38 Post by swo17 » Sat Nov 29, 2014 7:46 pm

I've already seen about half of these films now, and I don't know that I have much to say other than 1) there's nothing else like 'em, and 2) they make Treme look like The Blues Brothers. These are such rich, immersive portraits that, like a good stew, words can't adequately describe them--you just have to dig in!

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#39 Post by Gregory » Sun Nov 30, 2014 3:12 pm

I feel the same way about the ones I've seen, such as "Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers." I liked it, but it's really just a visually playful film of footage about people cooking and enjoying foods with garlic, and I don't know of much else to say about it. I recalled it being about 25-30 minutes and was surprised to see in the booklet that it's a 50 minute film. I'm sure I'll have some observations about the music-centered ones, without getting too far away from the films themselves and getting too much into the music and subjects apart from Blank's treatment, which would be tempting.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#40 Post by knives » Sun Nov 30, 2014 3:32 pm

Garlic also gives a lot of room, much like the music films, to discuss how people experience things as a way for social communication and identification. Garlic isn't just a food for cooking, but something you can connect with others over and give meaning to a very important, eating, part of your life or so the film seems to be getting at. In addition to his wonderful surfaces Blank does get at an essential component of community that is more than worth our discussion.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#41 Post by domino harvey » Sun Nov 30, 2014 4:58 pm

I wasn't saying there were great essays to be had here, just wouldn't it be fun if we all watched some of these films in the same time frame rather than throwing the box set directly into the unwatched pile. For me it makes it a less daunting task if others are doing it as well. It was supposed to be a light, fun suggestion!

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#42 Post by Gregory » Sun Nov 30, 2014 5:09 pm

It is a good suggestion and will be fun; I'm just bracing myself for not feeling like I can put my appreciation for the films into words very well.
I'll be especially interested to see if the films get viewers seeing them for the first time excited about some Texas and Louisiana musicians they hadn't been interested in before Blank's presentation of them.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#43 Post by swo17 » Sun Nov 30, 2014 5:10 pm

I didn't mean to discourage anyone from adding discussion, was just trying to muster some of my own.

I also just recently discovered a short film on the set that isn't advertised on Criterion's website, a b-side to Always for Pleasure that's fittingly titled Lagniappe. It's really delightful, with some of the best music from these films so far.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#44 Post by DeprongMori » Sun Nov 30, 2014 6:23 pm

I also just recently discovered a short film on the set that isn't advertised on Criterion's website, a b-side to Always for Pleasure that's fittingly titled Lagniappe. It's really delightful, with some of the best music from these films so far.
Thanks, swo, for that pointer. Any time I get to see and hear more performances by Professor Longhair and the Wild Tchoupitoulas with the Nevilles, I'm a happy guy. Fess's performance of "Doin' It" was just pure delight. It was a kick to see the original Tipitina's in that piece.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#45 Post by Bando » Tue Dec 02, 2014 12:55 am

This evening I worked my way through all of the Lightnin' Hopkins material, as well as God Respects Us When We Work, but Loves Us When We Dance, and I'm just blown away by how much love, care, and attention to detail went into this set. I can save my in-depth comments for when we start discussing the films as a group, but needless to say, this could be my new all-time favorite Criterion release if it keeps going at this clip (and having seen a few of these films before, I have no doubt it will).

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#46 Post by swo17 » Tue Dec 02, 2014 3:15 am

I don't think there's a set time when a group discussion will start. Just have at it now while you have the notion. Spend it all, etc.

Perhaps this is a minor point, but the lengths of these films are just right. I'll often finish another film with just half an hour or an hour left before I want to go to bed--not enough time to start a whole other feature-length film, but just enough for a light bedtime snack. I get more out of the films spacing them out that way too. Tonight was Sprout Wings and Fly, ending with a jubilant dance festival and an hilarious roll call over the end credits. But perhaps what sticks with me most are the wizened grins of the aged onlookers.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#47 Post by movielocke » Mon Dec 08, 2014 2:24 am

The Blues Accordin to Lightnin Hopkins is a superb and mesmerizing piece. It immediately reminds me of perhaps the best film in the eclipse series: God's Country, by Louis Malle. Blank suffuses the film with a profound presence of place that situates the viewer deep within the mileau of the subject. I immediately connected to the rural-ness, I suppose is the word, the film felt like constant reminder of visiting my grandparents farms in the early eighties (not much had changed from the late sixties) I was constantly drawn to the backgrounds and settings giving me a sense of comforting displacement that I found rather unique and as the music complemented my nostalgic and bittersweet reflections perfectly. I think that's what I like most about the film, that the filmmaking itself had a sort of bluesy component to it.

God Respects Us When We Work but Loves Us When We Dance is stunningly edited, it flows beautifully with the music; every cut (and there are many) feels natural, like flicking your gaze somewhere else, there's a continuous whirlwind to the piece, and when the emergence of the blunt occurs halfway through, the editing and music become much bolder, daring some dramatic pacing shifts and throwing on a kaleidoscope effect without ever feeling cheesy. The film runs long, though, and it's only twenty minutes, at times it felt more like watching a stringout or Broll for a larger piece, uncharitably you might call it some fun footage of your fam and friends--glorified home movies. You still have that superb sense of place and mileau and in that sense it is appropriate there is no dialogue, but at the same time I felt the film was much more half formed and directionless, which is perhaps appropriate given its a film illustrating stoned, vacuous hippies cavorting joyously at a Los Angeles Love in.

Spend it All embeds us with Blank's signature skill at locale with the Cajuns from the Louisiana Bayou. The film is a celebration of cajun culture and achs with resignation at what is passing away and no longer possible due to the government, the economy, progress, pick a silly strawman villain. It is sometimes hard to remember that before the new deal how little had changed throughout rural america, that 1820 was little different from 1920. Here, Blank is interviewing the last generation that grew up before they had electricity, telephones, paved roads, indoor plumbing or even much hard money and more importantly easy ways to earn or spend it. Dirt Poor, their lives are rich in feasts, art, music, it a community that fiercely celebrates itself even as it mourns itself. And given the history of the Acadians who became the Cajuns, I think that is how it always was, always is and always will be. Today's generation probably celebrates and mourns themselves with the same fervor and melancholy that we see in the weathered faces and stories Blank presents.

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Les Blank: Always For Pleasure (Les Blank, 1968-1995)

#48 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Dec 08, 2014 6:34 am

DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, JANUARY 5th AT 6:00 AM.

Members have a two week period in which to discuss the film before it's moved to its dedicated thread in The Criterion Collection subforum. Please read the Rules and Procedures.

This thread is not spoiler free. This is a discussion thread; you should expect plot points of the individual films under discussion to be discussed openly. See: spoiler rules.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

I encourage members to submit questions, either those designed to elicit discussion and point out interesting things to keep an eye on, or just something you want answered. This will be extremely helpful in getting discussion started. Starting is always the hardest part, all the more so if it's unguided. Questions can be submitted to me via PM.




***PM me if you have any suggestions for additions or just general concerns and questions.***

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#49 Post by Mr Sausage » Mon Dec 08, 2014 6:36 am

If you guys want to hold off for two weeks, the Film Club will be discussing this set starting December 22nd.

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Re: 737 Les Blank: Always for Pleasure

#50 Post by D50 » Mon Dec 08, 2014 2:22 pm

swo17 wrote:I also just recently discovered a short film on the set that isn't advertised on Criterion's website, a b-side to Always for Pleasure that's fittingly titled Lagniappe. It's really delightful, with some of the best music from these films so far.
I'll be sure to look for that one. It is mentioned in the dvdbeaver article, Lagniappe (25:25). I'm almost through disc 1.

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