Louisiana Story (1946-48)

Toronto Film Society presented Louisiana Story (1946-48) on Sunday, April 12, 1953 as part of the Season 5 Main Series, Programme 9.

NINTH EXHIBITION MEETING – FIFTH SEASON
SUNDAY, APRIL 12, 1953    8.15 p.m.
TOWNE CINEMA     57 Bloor East

The Man Who Snatches Lightning Conductors   France   1943

DIRECTOR:  Paul Grimault
ANIMATION:  Lacam, Vimenet, Allignet, Savitry, Juillet
EDITOR:  Choudens
MUSIC:  Roger Desormiere

A cartoon with a style of its own, it received the Grand Prix International du Dessin Animé at a Venice Festival.  Fascinating–and inexplicably funny.

Industrial Britain   Great Britain   1931-32

PRODUCTION – John Grierson for the Empire Marketing Board
DIRECTION & PHOTOGRAPHY:  Robert J. Flaherty

“I feel some sympathy with Alan Dent who, arriving late at the retrospective show (Edinburgh 1951), took Flaherty’s Industrial Britain to be the work of a newly discovered master, and was surprised to learn that it was nearly 20 years old.  For Industrial Britain, compared with a recent C.O.I. film on glassblowing, is as a skylark to a corpse.”  Basil Wright

In the formative period of the British documentary movement, Grierson invited Flaherty to join the E.M.B. Film Unit as teacher.  He went to the industrial Midlands to make Industrial Britain…Between black soot and white steam he found an infinite range of grey shades with which to compose his pictures…Inside the factories Flaherty found as much excitement in interpreting the skill of the English craftsman as he had found in recording the primitive struggle of the Eskimo and the South Sea Islander.

“Notice his grasp of the potter’s job, his remarkable anticipation of the craftsman’s hands as they mould the clay, his movement of camera always just in front of the movement of his actor…Such anticipatory movement of the camera is born, I suggest, only of long experience and of careful analysis, and, most important of all, of a complete understanding of human material…Such understanding is, I think, an attribute possessed more by Flaherty than any other documentalist, noticeable especially in Nanook and the handling of the craftsmen in Industrial Britain.”  Rotha

Only Basil Wright in Song of Ceylon was able to approach Flaherty’s own sensitive use of the camera to analyse and interpret acts and processes.

Gerald McBoing Boing   (Technicolor)   U.S.A.   1950

PRODUCED:  United Productions of America
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER:  Stephen Sosustow
DIRECTOR:  Robert Cannon
STORY:  Dr. Seuss
DESIGN:  John Hubley
MUSIC:  Gail Kubik
NARRATOR:  Marvin Miller

The cartoon which won both the British and American Academy Awards–already a classic, it is presented to members before the prints are withdrawn from current use.  UPA have always shown an eagerness to escape from cartoon convention; in this, the backgrounds are freely conceived, the draughtsmanship supple, and the colouring bright and varied; the music score is delightful.

Louisiana Story (1946-48)

PRODUCER & DIRECTOR:  Robert Flaherty
STORY:  Frances and Robert Flaherty
PHOTOGRAPHY:  Richard Leacock
EDITING:  Helen Van Dongen
MUSIC:  Virgil Thomson
CONDUCTED BY:  Eugene Ormandy
PLAYED BY:  Members of the Philadelphia Orchestra
SOUND:  Benjamin Doniger
PLAYERS:  Joseph Boudreaux, Lionel Le Blanc, Frank Hardy, C.P. Guedry.

It is sheer delight; so–one might fancy, coming away–so, naturally, beautifully, inquisitively, the camera might choose to behave if it had a life of its own.  It attaches itself here, like a dog or a companion, to a French-Canadian boy in a canoe threading the forest marshes of South Louisiana; the light drips down, lilies float on the surface of the water; air bubble ominously up from the depth.  To the boy, and to us, everything is an enchantment.  Suddenly a representative of another world, in the form of a monstrous oil-derrick, comes wading up the bayou.  Frightened birds take to the air at the horrendous sounds made by the monster.  But the boy is not frightened.  The rest of Louisiana Story is the drama of his developing relation to this symbol of the worlds that lie beyond his horizon.

Here one might expect conflict; but with his constant respect for human nature, his optimistic belief that, with all their differences, people can live together, Flaherty has preferred to show us harmony rather than discord.  Here in fact are two ways of living, the Latours who live by shooting and trapping on their own land, and the oil-men who are also masters of a craft and as such worthy of respect.  Having a skill, that is the important thing; that, and due respect for the skill of your neighbor.  It is absurd to write Flaherty off as an escapist.

All this is of course implicit in the film, which is not a sermon, but a story (Flaherty called it a “dramatic fantasy”) of great beauty and many excitements.  No other film quite equals its freshness of feeling.

This was Flaherty’s first film with sound recorded on location.  He went about it as might have been expected.  He listened to the speech of the people, set down on paper (extremely sketchy) dialogue, fed it line by line to his natural actors, had them say it again and again, re-phrasing it until it came out of their mouths as their own speech.  Often dialogue spoken spontaneously as it occurred to them was recorded.  The result, as in the discourse on alligators toward the beginning of the film and the family conversation in Cajun French near its end, has a magical veracity.  Sometimes in Louisiana Story the magic falters.  This seemed to occur in scenes where dialogue was left to carry the story-line, though Flaherty avoided this as much as possible.  He succeeded best when the camera did the narrating and speech fulfilled the function of revealing emotion, character, psychology, coming from the people as their own expression.

The music talks for this almost wordless picture.  Flaherty wrote, “We saw to it that the composer, Virgil Thomson, would be able to see the film in its first rough cut and have plenty of time to explore the music which, as in Aran, was the folk music of the people in the film.  Here again music has done more than words to motivate the story; Louisiana Story has gone another step further in welding music and film together.  And we feel that this is only the beginning of wonderful things that could be done in the future with composer and film-maker teaming up and working together.  Because music and film have movement, whereas words tend to slow movement up.  And movement, we still fell, is the essence of good film as a form of art.”

This is Virgil Thomson’s first film music since The Plough that Broke the Plains and The River.

As for the visuals, Flaherty and his gifted cameraman, Richard Leacock have this time an even greater feeling for the mysteries of light and colour than Flaherty first revealed in Moana.  You may take your choice of the gentle pans to the boy’s bare feet on the greasy iron decks of the derrick, his tense toes clinging tight to the slippery floor, or his soft stealth of movement through the life infested swamp and forest, or the just plain time to look and look and look.

Helen Van Dongen’s editing throughout is fine, and in the oil drilling sequence seen through the eyes of the boy, it is superb.

The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey sponsored Louisiana Story as part of its post-war public relations campaign.  The contract was an extraordinary one–providing complete finance by Standard Oil, but leaving Flaherty its sole owner, with no obligation to repay the negative cost and with distribution rights entirely in his own hands; Flaherty had complete freedom to make the film as he wished.

Richard Griffith                   Mary Losey
Lindsay Anderson     William Whitebait

ANNOUNCEMENT

Flaherty’s rarely shown film, The Land will be screened at the Discussion Group on Monday, April 20; it, along with Louisiana Story will be discussed.

Falconer Hall – 84 Queen’s Park 8.15 p.m.

MEMBERS’ EVALUATIONS

Mother:  “Exceptionally moving, beautifully acted; mother and son’s performances exquisite; would like to see again and again; more to it than can be got from seeing it just once; ice floes, superimposed factories and other trick shots effective the first time but repetition and length of shots made them lose effectiveness”–“Have seen twice before but for first time, because of speaker’s remarks, was able to analyse the lack of clarity and integration in the crowd sequences; Pudovkin best when handling individuals”–“As a specimen of early cinema it stands out as a superb effort; despite the speaker I thought the cutting excellent, the moving waters and ice floes very well integrated; I was not conscious of Art; nor any of the flaws pointed out..disliked morbid character of Russian people; brutality; the photography seems dull now”–“Very interesting historically but had no great personal appeal for me; nothing I disliked; structure excellent, variety of characters and location satisfactory, reserved treatment of capitalists surprising”–“Fairly good but slow”–“A great emotional experience…left an impact I shall not soon forget; mother’s portrayal a masterpiece”–“Too slow, but please don’t deprive us of these milestones in film because we make such remarks; preferred The End of St. Petersburg which seemed to more purpose; seeing Pudovkin one of the highlights; agree with speaker that scene where mother and son smile at each other was one of the highlights”–“Superb”–“Marvelous; film-making psychology just about perfect; liked music in saloon – authentic; film a little too overdone and obviously propaganda”–“Nothing one could rave about; why show similar films?  Red propaganda utterly unacceptable; moves exasperatingly slowly”–“Not a masterpiece: Greed made 2 years earlier was superb film-making; glad you showed Mother“–“For the times truly remarkable; beautifully executed, very moving, please allow me to congratulate you on your fine choice of films tis Season”–“A wonderful vehicle for study; because it’s a difficult film for a general audience, your presentation successful – music excellent; previously saw Mother with no music when 50 members of University Society walked out while I noted only 7 waked out of T.F.S.”–“Music good”.

Apropos of the ‘propaganda’ question we would like to quote the following member: “I am glad to see you screen a Russian film when the very name of that country is anathema to our ‘enlightened’ society.  If audiences cannot distinguish the falsity of Communist propaganda, they deserve nothing better than to be subjugated by it.  Surely they cannot accept everything the screen throws at them.  The caricatures of Czarists and capitalists seem funny to sensible audiences.  T.F.S. deserves bouquets.  There was none of the usual guffawing which greeted the screenings of the University Society.  Controversial films should be made available to mature audiences.  I am glad the T.F.S. is one.  As producers of the greatest film ever made, Potemkin, we should see more of Russian productions.  Everyone who doesn’t jeer or throw eggs at any remark favorable to Russia is not necessarily a traitor to his country.  Programs like the Pudovkin evening are a hopeful sign in the Society.  When we are besieged by a deluge of inferior and naseating American Technicolor ‘movies‘ one is thankful that here at least one can see a film.

Chess Fever:  “A riot; wonderful introduction..”–“A pleasant surprise; a perfect little gem”–“Silly and childish”–“Liked it immensely – refreshing”–“Excellent”.

COMMENTS ON THE SPEAKER pointed to a controversial reaction, with the majority of those who commented reacting unfavourable.  Sample remarks – “After viewing the film I don’t know when I have been more indignant: there was nothing in it to warrant the biased, superficial and unjust remarks”–“Introductory remarks quite unnecessary and rather poorly done; neither good criticism nor enlightening; couldn’t help feeling the Society was being apologetic for showing this film: I hope that was not the case”–“Thanks for having the speaker; they add greatly to our enjoyment of film generally”–“If ever an introduction or music ruined a film, tonight’s performance proved how effectively a wonderful film can be shattered”–“greed with speaker about main defects”.

MEMBERS’ LISTS OF 10 BEST FILMS TO DATE

Germaine Clinton’s 10 Best
PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC
L’ATLANTE
DAY OF WRATH
CITY LIGHTS
OPEN CITY
BRIEF ENCOUNTER
PYGMALION
LA REGLE DU JEU
SUNSENT BOULEVARD
ON THE TOWN
Germaine Clinton’s 10 Favorites
I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING
PYGMALION
HAMLET
SUSENT BOULEVARD
THE MALTESE FALCON
THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS
PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE
L’ATLANTE
MISS JULIE
ALEXANDER NEVSKY
W.G. Grant’s 10 Best
OPEN CITY
SHOESHINE
BICYCLE THIEF
MONSIEUR VERDOUX
CITY LIGHTS
HENRY V
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
INSPECTOR GENERAL
SITTING PRETTY
KIND HEARS AND CORONETS
A.G. Newcombe’s 10 Best
PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (humour)
DEATH OF A SALEMAN (most depressing)
THUNDER ROCK (most inspiring)
DEAD OF NIGHT (short stores)
PAISA (war)
KAMARADSCHAFT (realsim: people)
GREED (realism – individual)
GIRL NUMBER 218 (propaganda)
LAURA (detective)
ORPHÉE (fantasy)
Another member’s 10 Best
LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS
CITY LIGHTS
CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI
LA GRANDE ILLUSION
LAST LAUGH
LE SANG D’UN POÈTE
ORPHÉE
ALEXANDER NEVSKY
ROME OPEN CITY
BICYCLE THIEVES
and 10 Favorites
LE SANG D’UN POÈTE
CITY LIGHTS
LA GRANDE ILLUSION
ORPHÉE
CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA
MIRACLE IN MILAN
LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS
ALEXANDER NEVSKY
L’ÉTERNAL RETOUR
ROME OPEN CITY
Doug Davidson’s Favorites
“they can’t be boiled down to less!”
(10 Gest “too difficult to select”)
A DIARY FOR TIMOTHY – Jennings
DUST BE MY DESTINY – Sellers
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – Capra
MEET JOHN DOE – Capra
MR. SMITH GOEST TO WASHINGTON – Capra
RHYTHM OF A CITY – Sucksdorf
SUNRISE – Murnau
THE GRAPES OF WRATH – Ford
THE SET-UP – Wise
THE SOUTHERNER – Renoir
THEY LIVE BY NIGHT – Ray
YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU – Capra
Another Member’s 10 Favorites
LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS
LE SANG D’UN POÈTE
CITY LIGHTS
LA GRANDE ILLUSION
ROMA CITYA APERTA
ALEXANDER NEVSKY
CAESAR
BICYCLE THIEVES
LAST LAUGH
ORPHÉE
D. Burritt’s 9 Best
GREED
GRAPES OF WRATH
CITY LIGHTS
BICYCLE THIEF
PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC
LOUISIANA STORY
LONG OF CEYLON
ZÉRO DE CONDUITE
I WAS A FIREMAN
D. Burritt’s 10 Favorites
MONSIEUR VERDOX
SUNRISE
THE SET-UP
ITALIAN STRAW HAT
UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE
SONG OF CEYLON
LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN
POULETTE GRISE
SOUS LES TOITS DE PARIS
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE

Helen Clifton’s 10 Best and 10 Favorites
GOUPI AUX MAINS ROUGES
GOUPI AUX MAINS ROUGES
GOUPI AUX MAINS ROUGES
GOUPI AUX MAINS ROUGES
GOUPI AUX MAINS ROUGES
GOUPI AUX MAINS ROUGES
GOUPI AUX MAINS ROUGES
GOUPI AUX MAINS ROUGES
GOUPI AUX MAINS ROUGES
GOUPI AUX MAINS ROUGES

 

 

 

 

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