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A 40-year-old documentary about Leon Russell finally gets its home debut

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A scene from A POEM IS A NAKED PERSON, opening at Film Forum on July 1. Courtesy of Janus Films. - COURTESY OF JANUS FILMS.
  • Courtesy of Janus Films.
  • A scene from A POEM IS A NAKED PERSON, opening at Film Forum on July 1. Courtesy of Janus Films.

Forty years after filming, an intimate documentary of Oklahoma rock star Leon Russell made its official premier earlier this year at South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW).

Next month, A Poem Is a Naked Person makes its Oklahoma premier at Circle Cinema, 10 S. Lewis Ave., in Tulsa.

“It’s probably going to be the biggest event that we have had at the Circle,” said Chuck Foxen, Circle’s programmer.

Creative differences between the filmmaker and Russell prevented an earlier release, but unedited versions have circulated for years.

“I saw a bootleg version of it five or six years ago, and it’s pretty amazing,” Foxen said. “It’s like an Okie-centric gem of film. No one has seen this stuff.”

Originally directed by Les Blank, who passed away in 2013, it was completed by his son, Harrod.

“That’s a question that we don’t need to worry about,” Harrod said when asked at SXSW why the release took so long. “Let’s just celebrate what it is and keep moving.”

The SXSW premiere also featured Maureen Gosling, who worked as the film’s sound designer from 1972 to 1974.

“The experience of making this film was like dropping into a whole other world,” Gosling told Oklahoma Gazette in March. “[Russell] would bring these bands in to use his studio, and he would bring in Freddy King, the O’Neal Twins, Phoebe Snow — all these people would be there, and we would get to be in these sessions.”

Russell was credited as pioneering an Oklahoma sound that combined elements of rock and gospel and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The film’s state premiere in Tulsa is fitting, as Russell started performing live there at age 14.

Russell, Blank and Gosling will be at a special Wednesday, Aug. 5 screening. The film officially opens Friday, Aug. 7.

Foxen said Circle Cinema had been hoping to get the film for several years.

“We’ve known of the film since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here 10 years,” Foxen said. “People have brought it up and tried to get it shown, but we never could. It’s always been on the back burner.

“But when they played the film at SXSW, once I heard that happened ... I emailed and said we would love to help the Oklahoma premiere.”

Learn more at circlecinema.com or call the box office at 918-585-3404.

Print headline: State screening, A documentary about Leon Russell finally gets its home debut.

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