Tuesday, April 01, 2008

'Louisiana Story' gets another look

Lately, there's been a surge of interest in Robert Flaherty's classic docudrama "Louisiana Story." It turns 60 this year, and Louisiana Public Broadcasting celebrated the milestone by making and broadcasting "Louisiana Story: The Reverse Angle." The program brings together the surviving players of the movie.

If you haven't seen "Louisiana Story," it's well worth queuing up in Netflix. Flaherty, who also gave us "Nanook of the North" (1922!), is a pioneer of documentary filmmaking. "Louisiana Story" examined the impact of an oil drilling barge on an optimistic young Cajun boy, his trapper family and their Acadian community. The plot conflict involves the capping of a well.

"Louisiana Story" has an interesting, semi-controversial legacy. An article in Imagine Louisiana offers some great background info: "Like 'Nanook,' which had been financed by a French fur-trading company, 'Louisiana Story' served commerce as well as art. It was conceived as a public relations tool for the Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) - predecessor to today's ExxonMobil - which had begun to explore the wetlands and inshore waters of Louisiana."

Historically speaking, "Louisiana Story" is as essential to American movie history as it is ethically problematic. And that enduring critical conflict, in my eyes, is what makes it indispensible to today's documentary filmmakers.

Dave Walker, TV columnist for The Times-Picayune, has an insightful short piece about its history as industrial propaganda. Walker spoke to Tika Laudun, the director of "Louisiana Story: The Reverse Angle," who suggested that the 1948 docudrama's general view of the oil industry and environmentalism was a reflection of midcentury ideas about "moving forward."

What's more interesting, as reported by writer Ben Sandmel for Imagine Louisiana, is that the film's young star, J.C. Boudreaux, is now 72 and facing a new beginning. The article begins: "J.C. Boudreaux's FEMA trailer sits the end of a gravel road in the hamlet of Sweet Lake, southeast of Lake Charles, the insides seeming all the more cramped by the wide open skies and endless expanse of prairie outside. Like thousands of others in south Louisiana, Boudreaux, 72 and his wife Regina, are starting over. Their home in Cameron was swept away in Hurricane Rita, just as their first home was lost to Hurricane Audrey decades ago."

Both articles are well worth reading.

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