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Louisiana Story

Pioneer documentarian Robert J. Flaherty's Louisiana Story (1948) is set in the bayou country of the Mississippi Delta swamps inhabited by French-speaking Acadians. The hero is a 13-year-old boy absorbed in fishing, hunting, and paddling the subtropical marshes with his pet raccoon. Soon after the discovery of oil bubbling up from the swamp, a refinery derrick is drilling 14,000 feet beneath this pastoral eden. Attracted by the immense structure, the boy befriends the nonlocal men who work there. After the derrick goes "wildcat" in a dangerous blowout, he entrusts his ever-present magic totem, a bag of salt, to ward off the bad luck and restore the promise of relative prosperity for his family. This naive and sometimes cloying plot is Louisiana Story's weakest element — when dialogue happens, the stilted delivery by the film's untrained non-actors reminds us that what we're watching is constructed upon artifice. Instead, it's the virtuosic technical aspects that make the picture a genre classic. Cinematographer Richard Leacock and editor Helen van Dongen created visuals of lasting mastery, and composer Virgil Thomson's score won a Pulitzer Prize. All of which excuses the fact that Louisiana Story's depiction of the postward petroleum boom as a bringer of a majestic beneficence pleased Flaherty's sponsor, Standard Oil, no end.

Home Vision Entertainment gives Louisiana Story the Criterion treatment on a DVD with a restoration by the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art, and the UCLA Film & Television Department. Supplements include a 1960 interview with Flaherty's wife and collaborator Frances Hubbard Flaherty, the retrospective "Study Film," and correspondence between cinematographer Richard Leacock and his wife. Keep-case.
—Mark Bourne

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