". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, June 18, 2010

Retrospective Assessment of Flaherty's *Louisiana Story*

If I recall correctly, el V and I each watched Louisiana Story (1948) the first time in a college film series, long before we met each other.  We watched it again at some point after we married, probably here when it would have been shown as part of  the many Film Forum series.  Then again, in the months before moving to New Orleans.  Among my strongest recollections of each watch of this acclaimed classic of film propaganda, was my revulsion for the story it was telling -- how the oil business was a good thing.  Growing up in an agricultural community my sense of what is good or bad for the land, for the enviornment, was an innate sense.  No cinematic poetry could change this innate sense I possessed from growing up on a farm that grew food animals, food crops and ate out of a garden.  This was a simple-minded piece of propaganda film poetry, easing consciousnesses across the board of the evil that was being done to pristine, fertile regions and ways of life -- that were, let us never forget, very hard, very hard scrabble, very poor lives for those living them.

Today on Counterpunch, Richard Ward takes another tack on Louisiana Story:

In an interview with Robert Gardner at Harvard’s Peabody Museum in 1960, Francis Flaherty, wife of the great filmmaker, Robert Flaherty, who died in 1951, reads from a letter sent by Standard Oil of New Jersey proposing a film that would be: “A classic—a permanent artistic record of the contributions in which the oil industry had made to civilization. A film that would present the story of oil with dignity, the epic sweep it deserved, and assure the story of a lasting place on the highest plane in the literature of the screen. The film would also be such an absorbing human story that it would stand on its own feet as an entertainment anywhere. Because of its entertainment value it would be distributed theatrically, through the regular motion picture houses, both in America and abroad.” The result of this proposal, later followed by a check for $125,000, resulted in the propaganda piece the Rockefeller’s company wanted, and for posterity a hauntingly beautiful film laced with heartbreaking irony.


K. said...

I've know this as a legend, but haven't seen it. Flaherty made some great films -- you can still see Men of Aran on the Aran Islands.

Foxessa said...

This one is pure propaganda for the oil companies who were even then destroying the Gulf wetlands of Louisiana.

In some ways the film that feels most like Louisiana Story is the Albert Lamorisse film (1953), White Mane, shot in the coastal Camargue region of France. Though not propaganda for anything, it is unbearably sentimental tosh to our 21st century eyes, it is natural world poetry on film too.

Love, C.

Foxessa said...

It's hard not to believe that Lamorisse was not influenced by the Flaherty film.