Blank, an award-winning independent filmmaker, is returning to Lafayette after an absence of 20 years, and will be presenting three of his films J’ai Été Au Bal/I Went to the Dance, Hot Pepper and Yum, Yum, Yum! in the Main Gallery of the Acadiana Center for the Arts March 24 and 25 beginning at 7 p.m.
The films are a poetic vision of the Cajun and Creole attitude toward life: earthy, at times brutal, and yet imbued with the joyous joie de vivre that permeates the local culture. I asked Blank, 75, a native of Tampa, Fla., how he was able to enter the hidden world of Cajun and Creole culture back in the 1970s, long before Cajun was cool.
“I used to work summers on a sea-going tug boat in the Gulf, between Tampa, my home, and Texas and Mobile and New Orleans and on one trip, I got off in New Orleans and saw the sights and a friend of mine from school lived here and we saw the French Quarter and I was living in an all boy’s prep school at the time and I thought this was a pretty interesting place. I came to school here after high school. I wanted to play football. It wasn’t the best place for academics...but that’s how I got here.
“[I spent] four years taking a degree in English at Tulane, then I went off to California to take a masters in English and dropped out and came back and took a master of Fine Arts in theater, so I was here for another two years to do that. It was in play writing.
“When I was at Tulane, those were the days when Cajuns were under the carpet somewhere, you didn’t talk about them much, they were kind of a mythical creature who lived back in the bayous. On the radio in New Orleans, there was a radio commercial for Tichenor’s Antiseptic, the chords and the music were Cajun sounding, it was sort of dissonant sounding but to my mind a pleasing, catching kind of music. On the football team, there were a couple of Cajuns and I noticed they were quite different from everybody else and I enjoyed their outlook and their humor and their kind of crazy sensibilities. And they told me about these dance halls out in the woods and I thought this would be interesting, so my girlfriend and I drove over there, and I attended one of these functions down a dirt road in an old barn type building made out of old wood and the floor was jam-packed with people dancing around in a circle and sweating and the beer was really cold and they were doing the two-step and everybody was in perfect sync with one another and every time they hit their feet down on the floor, the whole floor would cave in and bounce back up. They didn’t speak much English at all. I was studying French, I could get by, I could get my beer ordered and I had a lot of fun. It made a deep impression on me. I wanted to come back and do something later.
“I was in Houston, doing an industrial film for a Gulfport tube company that makes oil pipes. To entertain myself, I went to a Cajun dance I saw advertised in the Houston paper. Again, it was the same kind of people doing the same kind of dancing. I made friends with the leader of the musical group and he invited me and my girlfriend over to his house for chicken gumbo. He cooked a delicious chicken gumbo. I was very moved by his deep affection for his food as well as his music. I wanted to experience more of that. So later, when I saw Dewey Balfa in Chicago, I introduced myself, he invited me backstage and he shared some of his moonshine with me, and he said, ‘Come on down to Louisiana and I’ll help you make a film.’
“Down there, I met Marc Savoy and he was very helpful as well. Paul Tate and Revon Reed also were most helpful. Revon Reed let me live in his garage apartment in Mamou. When I was shooting Spend it All, (1971), I intended to include the African-American element of the scene, but every time I’d go to a Cajun supper or a party they’d invite me to another one the next day, and before I knew what was happening, I’d shot all my film, spent all my money, and had to leave, sadly, without any of the black experience.
“Then the National Endowment for the arts was starting their first grant sessions and I applied for one of their grants and got it, thus I could come back and shoot two films. I thought I was shooting one film, but it was separating out into Hot Pepper, (1973), about Clifton Chenier, around Lafayette and Breaux Bridge and his world, and then the more rural area of Mamou, of Bois-Sec Ardoin and Canray Fontenot. The sharecropping people, I guess you could say are closer to the earth. That became Dry Wood, (1973).”
Blank’s style is pure storytelling without the interference of a an interviewer or narrator coming between his subject and the camera. “I try hard not to let the subject feel like a subject. I try to not make a big deal about the camera. When I was hanging around with Clifton, because Clifton accepted me, other people didn’t have any reservations about opening up for me.
“Then I came back from time to time. Michael P. Smith, the late and great Michael P. Smith, who was the great photographer of the streets of New Orleans, who has covered every New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, he was a brother of a friend of mine in prep school back east. I got to be friends with him, he showed me around town, and inspired me to do the film called Always for Pleasure, (1977), about New Orleans music and Mardi Gras.
“Then almost 20 years later, Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records, who has done a lot of recording of Cajun, zydeco and Creole music, he wanted me to help him make a film, to be the definitive film on Cajun and zydeco music. So I came down with him, and that became J’ai Été Au Bal, (1989). And while doing that I was following my personal interest in documenting food ways, and made Yum Yum Yum, (1990), about Cajun and Creole cooking, all the music on the sound track is about food, and while I was at it, realized I was accumulating some interesting footage on Marc and Ann Savoy that wasn’t being used in the other two films, so I made a third film called Marc and Ann, (1991).”
The two-night event, March 24 and 25 beginning at 7 p.m., will reunite Blank with his subjects featured in the documentaries for the first time in more than 25 years. Tickets are $3 for students, $5 for members of the AcA, $7 for one night and $10 for both nights. Tickets can be purchased at the AcA’s box office located at 101 W. Vermilion St., by calling 233-7060 or at the door the night of the event.
With six of the LPSB’s nine members poised for Pat Cooper’s termination, a request was filed Tuesday for a fast-tracked hearing on the federal lawsuit calling for the disqualification of two board members from voting on the matter due to bias.
A few of my favorite things
Louisiana's Republican Party has filed a complaint against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu with the Senate's ethics committee about her use of private chartered planes.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
An attorney signs up to run against LPSB's Mark Cockerham, and within a week a lawsuit is filed by a former LPSS employee in an attempt to disqualify him. Coincidence?
According to Gov. Bobby Jindal, President Barack Obama needs to stop talking about “justice” and start murdering people, even if we have to go alone.
A replacement is expected by January to fill the vacancy left when Greg Roberts resigned after allegedly pointing a fake gun at an engineer during a June meeting.
The Ragin’ Cajuns got off to a superb start Saturday night, and the Human Jukebox made the soaked season opener even sweeter for the third-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
The Louisiana health department will follow a federal judge's order and refrain from immediately penalizing doctors who are trying to comply with a new abortion law that requires them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday.
Halliburton says it has agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle a substantial portion of plaintiff claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
While bogged down with qualifying candidates last month, Secretary of State Tom Schedler didn’t lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stoned driving a concern when pot is legal; Detroit's bankruptcy trial; speed trap scandal in Florida and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 02, 2014.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The Houston firm said Friday in its weekly report that 1,575 rigs were exploring for oil and 338 for gas. One was listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,776 active rigs.
A crew began erecting the 25-foot mini-wheel late morning Friday in anticipation of the evening’s Hottest Night of the Year party at the park.
Frances Boothe of Nunez, who also happens to be filmmaker Stephen Meaux’s grandmother, prepares a cool-weather fave.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
New Iberia colonial or Broussard traditional home
The LPSB is poised and ready to move forward with the termination of Pat Cooper following a discussion Thursday with the attorney hired for the investigation of the superintendent, but a decision of this magnitude should be left up to the new board seated in January, especially with three pro-investigation board members bailing out come the new year.
Fiery style for game day
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
Three bedroom Port Barre cottage or three bedroom historic district Opelousas home