Memories of Leon Russell

On Film / Short Takes — Nov 15, 2016
Leon Russell and Harrod Blank

In the early 1970s, singer-songwriter Leon Russell invited independent documentary filmmaker Les Blank to capture footage of him on tour and at his studio in Oklahoma. Blank went on to create the beautiful, free-form portrait A Poem Is a Naked Person, but Russell was not pleased with the results and prevented the film from being screened for over four decades. Luckily, in 2014, Blank’s son Harrod persuaded Russell that the film deserved to see the light of day, an effort that led to a new restoration, a theatrical release, and the edition we published last March.

It was an honor to unveil this long sought-after rock ‘n’ roll treasure, which showcases Russell at the height of his powers, and we were deeply saddened to learn of his passing last weekend. We reached out to Harrod, who shared a few words with us about his memories of the legendary musician:

Working with Leon and the Criterion team to finish and release the film was an adventure that I felt privileged to be a part of. From the premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival, to the five-city tour with Leon, it was a magical experience, and we witnessed firsthand the joy and admiration that so many had for Leon and his music. Seeing Leon slowly open up to the film and enjoy the events made it especially sweet. I also felt tremendously honored to follow through on the project for my father, Les Blank. It was an experience I won’t forget.

The following interview, excerpted from our release of A Poem Is a Naked Person, features Leon Russell and Harrod Blank in conversation:

Below, Russell delivers one of his most captivating performances in the film: