#195 Louisiana Story
(1948, Robert J. Flaherty)
We’ve seen the work of Robert J. Flaherty before with Nanook Of The North, a film often credited with being a documentary despite being almost entirely fictional. Here’s another one, Louisiana Story, often credited with being another of Flaherty’s documentaries, although this is more overtly fictional. Is it still as interesting as Nanook?
Louisiana Story is about a young Cajun boy named Alexander Napoleon Ulysses Le Tour (Joseph Bordreaux), who lives out his days in bliss on the bayous of Louisiana. Adventure comes in the form of oil drillers who set up shop in the inlet behind Alexander’s family home.
Or rather, adventure doesn’t come because literally nothing happens for the movie’s 78 minute running time. Much of the movie seems to be shots of either peaceful bayous or the inner workings of an oil rig. Is there conflict in the movie? Yes. An alligator eats the boy’s raccoon and the oil rig explodes. Except somehow these events don’t provide any real narrative drive despite sounding exciting on paper. In fact, even these things are exceptionally dull.
Let me explain why these things add no real narrative drive. The alligator plotline fails to be interesting because of how little it has to do with anything else in the movie. The oil rig had already come in by this point and seemed central to the plot, so switching to an alligator eating a raccoon seemed somewhat irrelevant.
What’s more, the oil rig didn’t create conflict despite it being something that obviously could have done. The workers were all amiable chaps and the oil rig explosion is handled mostly off-camera and in a timely and organised fashion. What initially looked like a film about the destruction of the natural world by industry ends up being anything but.
So what does this leave us with if we have no conflict? Well, pretty much nice shots of water and trees and some extensive scenes of How An Oil Rig WorksTM. Sad to say that this doesn’t make much of a plot, and we’re only left with a strong sense of irony that a movie with the word “Story” in the title doesn’t actually have much of a story at all.
It does other things wrong too. There are sections where the movie tries to be clever and try and tell sections of the story without any dialogue, but rather than being a form of clever art direction it does nothing but prevent the audience from having any clue what’s going on. It merely leaves us with yet more shots of a small boy and a raccoon rowing around in the bayou for all eternity.
Also, whenever there is a need for acting, it seems that everyone involved in the film was unaware of how to act, since every performance was awkward and I actually felt embarrassed for all involved. One scene in particular saw the rig workers laughing and joking with the boy, and the whole thing felt so painfully forced, and the laughing kept going longer than would ever seem natural. Nothing was even particularly funny to prompt the laughter in the first place, so I was even more confused.
There really isn’t much to say about Louisiana Story. It’s a conflict-free zone where boys play with raccoons and oil drilling doesn’t threaten the environment. It’s all very nice, but we need more than just nice to make a movie. Maybe the oil rig is run by an evil money baron determined to destroy the bayou, maybe the alligator was pissed because his habitat was disturbed by the drilling, maybe the raccoon could have been a thief trying to avenge his father’s death with the help of a hippo and a turtle, ANYTHING!
So yeah, Louisiana Story. Nothing to see here, folks.
Starring Joseph Bordreaux, Lionel Le Blanc, E. Bienvenu & Frank Hardy
Written by Robert J. Flaherty & Frances H. Flaherty
Produced by Robert J. Flaherty
Music by Virgil Thomson
Cinematography by Richard Leacock
Edited by Helen Van Dongen
Favourite Scene: The oil rig explosion brought the promise of drama, so there’s that at least.
Scene That Bugged Me: The alligator eating the raccoon. Allegedly.
Watch it if: You like pretty pictures of trees
Avoid it if: You’re a fan of plot