In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Louisiana Story And an Ecology of the Imagination
  • Jack Coogan (bio)

Figures


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Figure 1.

Robert Flaherty lends a hand to Joseph Boudreaux, selected for the role of the Cajun boy Alexander Latour, in the film Louisiana Story. Photo courtesy the Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville.


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Figure 2.

Still from Man of Aran (d. Robert Flaherty, 1934). Photo courtesy The Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive.


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Figure 3.

Still from The Land (d. Robert Flaherty, 1942). Photo courtesy The Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive.


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Figure 4.

Still from The Plow That Broke the Plains (d. Pare Lorenz, 1936). Photo courtesy The Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive.


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Figure 5.

Throughout Louisiana Story, the boy is integrated visually into the lovely patterns of his mysterious bayou. Photo courtesy the Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville.


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Figure 6.

Exploring the machines which have entered his world, the boy finds new friends among the drilling crew. Still from Louisiana Story courtesy The Robert and Frances Flaherty Study Center at The School of Theology at Claremont, California.

In his standard text Documentary, Erik Barnouw suggests an important reinterpretive strategy for the Flaherty classic Louisiana Story (1948). An object of high praise since its premiere, the film had been examined from a number of perspectives, but had not been systematically interrogated in relationship to its sponsorship by Standard Oil of New Jersey. Barnouw saw that recontextualizing it in this way might reveal important aspects of the film, and in a brief treatment opens a fresh and valuable perspective on it. 1

The excellent results of this strategy suggest other ways of repositioning the film, and one of the most interesting is to read it in relationship to its immediate predecessor, The Land (1942). The least characteristic and most neglected of the major Flaherty films, it invites critical reassessment of the sort begun by Paul Rotha’s vigorous defense of its approach and content in his biography of Robert Flaherty. 2 With such reassessment, it becomes increasingly evident that key issues which the Flahertys joined in The Land were not and could not be resolved within its structure or the terms of its commission, and that these issues, consciously or not, shaped the evolution and final design of Louisiana Story. 3

By the middle of the fourth decade of this century, the Flaherty films had established an international reputation as pioneering new directions for non-fiction film. Nanook of the North (1922) brought a fresh immediacy and intimacy [End Page 59] to the travel/exploration film which won it both a wide popular audience and critical acclaim; its influence was and remains significant. Moana (1926) can be read as an extension of lessons learned in making Nanook and in many ways it was, but it also took non-fiction film in new directions, especially in its use of a non-linear narrative structure, no doubt suggested by the Samoan culture which is its subject. Man of Aran (1934) represented a return to the theme of Nanook, but now handled with a new mastery of the medium and its resources which allowed it to compete successfully with the best films of its time for a major international prize.

For all the diversity of these films, the Flahertys thought that they saw a common theme throughout them: the ways in which the human spirit came to terms with its environment, whether that environment was the almost unimaginable harshness of the Arctic or the tropical beneficence of Samoa. 4 Thus when in 1939 they received an invitation from Pare Lorentz to make a film for [End Page 60] the new United States Film Service, they at last had an opportunity to turn a camera upon their own culture, presumably to discover and reveal the ways in which the American people were linked to their environment.

The film was begun under difficult circumstances. Several of his coworkers have commented on the terrific impact the unfolding war...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3354
Print ISSN
0160-6840
Pages
pp. 58-69
Launched on MUSE
1998-04-01
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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