Rockin’ in the Film World #2: THE BLUES ACCORDIN’ TO LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS (1968)

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“The blues had a baby”, sang Muddy Waters, “and they called it rock’n’roll”. One of rock’s many parents was the legendary Texas country bluesman Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins. Lightnin’s phenomenal guitar wizardry is heard echoing in everything from The Animals to Led Zeppelin and beyond, and it’s given a fine showcase in this 45 minute documentary by filmmaker Les Blank. Blank gives us an amazing time capsule of life in 1960’s Centerville, Texas, a predominately black rural community midway between Dallas and Houston. We follow Lightnin’, with his ever-present shades and hip flask of whiskey, as he visits his hometown, jamming with friends like Mance Lipscomb, greeting relatives, attending a rodeo, and playing at a BBQ party. This short, cinema verite film lets the man himself tell the story through his music and tales of a life in the blues.

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Les Blank began as an industrial filmmaker before deciding to follow his own muse. Blank focused on musicians in many of his films, including Leon Russell, Ry Cooder, and Huey Lewis & The News, as well as regional genres like New Orleans jazz, San Francisco psychedelic, Afro-Cuban stylings, Tex-Mex, and Polka (yes, polka!). Blank also did documentaries on subjects as diverse as a garlic festival in California, gap-toothed women, and two spotlighting the German director Werner Herzog (WERNER HERZOG EATS HIS SHOE and BURDEN OF DREAMS).

If you love the blues as much as I do, THE BLUES ACCORDIN’ TO LIGHTNIN’ HOPKINS is a must-see film. Even if it’s not your kind of music, you’ll enjoy this well-made documentary for a glimpse into a bygone era. Who knows, you might even end up getting converted to the blues after watching!

Here’s a small sample. Check out that washboard player!:

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