The Tao of Blake
Directed by Kathy Corley
Blake Travis was apparently always a happy, hopeful person. As one of Travis' artistic collaborators explains in Kathy Corley's just-finished documentary, The Tao of Blake, Travis was a "cheerful, jovial and buoyant personality" — and based on what we see in this 60-minute celebration of his life, that seems just about right. Growing up poor and black in a well-to-do white suburb, Travis recalls his childhood as idyllic. And while an integrated junior high school made Travis realize for the first time that his family was, in fact, poor, even as an adult he insists to Corley that "there was never any racial tension that I ever felt." Travis was one of only two African American students who agreed to be interviewed for 16 In Webster Groves, the landmark — and controversial — CBS documentary about his high school class. Corley includes footage from that film, but she spends more time on Travis' decades as a musician in St. Louis, which were cut short by a 2008 stroke that left him unable to remember lyrics, and finally his death, at age 60, in February. It's impossible to dislike Travis, but the film's shortcoming is that it's also hard to identify with so saintly a figure. Interestingly, a grown-up Travis is seen telling a college class that after 16 In Webster Groves, he was criticized as an Uncle Tom by his black classmates, a statement that doesn't square with his assertion that he felt no racial tension whatsoever at Webster Groves High School. More exploration of contradictions like that one might have helped bring the film's subject more fully to life.