In 1976, Blank joined forces with Chris Strachwitz, founder of the regional music label Arhoolie Records, to form Brazos Films. Under that banner, he made the Tex-Mex film Chulas Fronteras, (1976), Del Mero Corazon (1979), and J’ai ‘Ete’ Au Bal (1989), a tribute to Cajun culture and zydeco music that he co-directed with Strachwitz. He also directed the Mardi Gras film Always For Pleasure (1978) and the self-explanatory Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980).

Blank first trained his camera on his friend and colleague Werner Herzog in the 20-minute Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980), in which Herzog did just that: ate his shoe to settle a bet with Errol Morris, who won by completing his first film, Gates Of Heaven. (In keeping with the culinary bent of much of Blank’s work, Alice Waters pitched in to help prepare Herzog’s shoe with garlic and oregano.)

Two years later, Burden Of Dreams, Blank’s record of the grueling production on Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, opened almost simultaneously with Herzog’s movie. Blank’s film (which some reviewers preferred to Herzog’s) created a lasting portrait of Herzog as a sardonic, obsessive auteur, holding forth on nature and its discontents in the thick of the Peruvian jungle.

The success of Dreams elevated Blank’s profile enough to help his other films gain exposure through festivals, public and cable television, and home video. His later work included In Heaven There Is No Beer? (1984), about polka culture; Gap-Toothed Women (1987), an ode to an erotic obsession featuring interviews with subjects like Lauren Hutton, underground cartoonist Dori Seda, and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; the 1988 concert documentary Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces (1988); Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste Of Cajun And Creole Cooking (1990); Innocents Abroad (1991); and his final completed film, All In This Tea (2007).

His son, Harrol Blank—a documentary filmmaker best known for his movies about art-car culture, Wild Wheels (1992) and Automorphosis (2009)—tells the San Francisco Chronicle that his father was working on two projects at the time of his death, and that “those films just need to be edited.” Blank’s legacy and approach to life can be summed up in the title of one of his earliest films: God Respects Us When We Work, But Loves Us When We Dance.