By Calum Marsh
By Michelle Orange
By Michael Atkinson
By Simon Abrams
By Zachary Wigon
By Aaron Hillis
By Casey Burchby
By Stephanie Zacharek
As vital as Fitzcarraldo may be, Les Blank's Burden of Dreams—his 1982 fly-on-the-tree chronicle of Werner Herzog's tumultuous jungle production—may be the more riveting film, and is certainly the keystone work in the California documentarian's near half-century canon. Here partnered with filmmaker-editor Gina Leibrecht, Blank's first feature in over a decade (and his first to take advantage of the portability of DV) visually recalls Burden in a couple ways. His subject is again compulsive: The film follows the eccentric path of affable tea importer David Lee Hoffman, a well-traveled leaf obsessive who frequently visits the dewy corners of China in order to deal directly with the farmers (rather than the mass-producing factory execs); his pristine white suit, straw hat, and unpopular dreams of fair trade and organic composting seem remarkably Kinski-esque. Secondly, Herzog himself turns up for an in-home tasting, then volunteers the film's title. Although the word "tea" gets mighty repetitive, and Blank obviously can't share the experience when Hoffman and other oolong-heads wax profoundly about how their green buds smell and taste (at times coming across like stoners marveling over High Times centerfolds), the film's quick-and-dirty vérité yields some delightful caught moments, steeped in historical footnotes that only enhance.
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