A Poem Is a Naked Person

Shot in the early 70s but shelved for 40 years, this portrait of R&B great Leon Russell (1974) immediately takes its place among the best rock docs. Filmmaker Les Blank (The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins) was known for his oddball ethnography, and for this project he took advantage of his time in Oklahoma, where Russell maintained a recording studio on Grand Lake in the Ozarks, to film numerous vignettes of local characters. Later the action moves to Tennessee, where Blank gets footage of bluegrass players tearing it up and gospel shouters at a black evangelical church. Despite the carnival atmosphere, Russell still registers strongly, his ornery philosophy undercut by his sweet, soulful piano playing. Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Eric Anderson turn up along the way, contributing some fine musical moments, though Blank upstages them all with a sequence of somebody’s pet snake killing and eating a baby chick.