Tag Archives: Robert J. Flaherty

XL Popcorn – Louisiana Story

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 651/1007
Title: Louisiana Story
Director: Robert J. Flaherty
Year: 1948
Country: USA

I think now, more than ever, we’re more aware of looking at the intentions behind the creation of a piece of art. With Louisiana Story it might be a bit much to call this propaganda, but that designation may not be too far from the truth.

There’s no question that Louisiana Story is a beautifully shot piece of fiction whose languid pacing matches the setting of the Louisiana bayous. However, it feels like an awfully cynical look at the Cajun people who are depicted as simple folks in both senses of the words. Even if I didn’t know this was paid for ‘big oil’ to promote their drilling ventures, it all just feels too idyllic… especially now we know some of the environmental issues this drilling has been the cause of.

Also, there’s no real story to this film. We have a Cajun family (who cannot act) who make money from signing off part of their land to a drilling company, a alligator who ends up being killed because he supposedly a pet raccoon and the setting up (and, due to an explosion, the dismantling of) a drilling platform. All this with many a beautifully framed image of the swampland and the animals that live in there.

There’s some banter between the young boy and the workers… but it does feel like they’re taking the piss a bit and he has no idea what’s going on. It’s things like that which speak to this film feeling a bit tone deaf and makes me question how, in 1952, the BFI voted this one of the best 10 films ever made.

I think my problem with this goes back to what I felt about Flaherty’s most famous work: Nanook of the NorthAs a documentarian Flaherty knows what looks good on the screen, but the moment a narrative gets involved everything descends into a (sometimes cruel) stereotype. I guess it just needs to be said to take any Flaherty film with a massive tablespoon of salt.

XL Popcorn – Nanook of the North

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 444/1007Title: Nanook of the North
Director: Robert J. Flaherty
Year: 1922
Country: USA

As far as films go, Nanook of the North is snake oil. The beginning describes a narrative of an intrepid film maker who, despite the odds, makes a documentary about an fearless Inuit hunter called Nanook and his family.

But it’s bullshit. Pretty much all of it is staged. I know that when you go to film a group like this there is no chance of being candid, especially with the filming equipment that was available back in 1922.

However, the group Flaherty was filming was already coming under the ‘white influence’. They were already starting to wear clothing and use weapons that were not traditional before the camera was pointed at them. Instead of going with this, and making a documentary what could show how the world’s have collided and this is how the Inuk people have started to adapt, we get something which is basically a tableau of stereotyped ‘Eskimo’ behaviour.

 One such sequence that did not sit well with me was a scene where the ‘white man’ tries to explain a gramophone. This felt so staged, something made worse when ‘Nanook’ (not his real name) sticks the record in his mouth.

Thing is, I know I am looking at this through the eyes of a walrus-loving man living in 2015. This was a ground-breaking piece of cinema… but couldn’t it have been as ground-breaking without having to create such a narrative that is, in the end, insulting to the filmed subjects. Just a thought.