Where Oil, Water and Cajuns Mix: Louisiana Story

LOUISIANA STORY1948, Lopert Films

1948, Lopert Films

The Louisiana bayou setting in Beasts of the Southern Wild reminds me of a 1948 film, Louisiana Story.  This movie is fascinating for a few reasons.  And, despite its quirks, I really like it.

The black-and-white movie is almost entirely visual: there is remarkably little dialog and the images are poetic. Most of the film is comprised of a camera following around a Cajun boy in a “day-in-the-life” format, capturing his carefree and natural companionship with the local bayou.  It’s coupled with a really nice score in the background.  Virgil Thomson, the composer, won the Pulitzer Prize for the score in 1949 (performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under acclaimed conductor Eugene Ormandy).

The story is simple: a boy’s simple bayou life is changed forever—good and bad—when his father signs a lease to Humble Oil to wildcat.

The movie has a pseudo-documentary feel to it for a few reasons.  First, the actors portraying the locals (the boy, his mother and his father) have Cajun names and convincing Cajun accents and speak in heavily accented, authentic-sounding Cajun French (with a guttural tone that reminds me of the Vaudois French I learned in Switzerland in the early 1980s).  Second, the film was made in cooperation with Humble Oil at an actual drilling site in a bayou (A reviewer at IMDB indicates that Standard Oil—which later consolidated with Humble Oil—commissioned the film).  So there were shots on the drilling platform that are almost educational about the drilling process.

Overall, the movie seemed pretty even-handed.  It captured some of the real negatives about oil production: the noise, the land disturbance, the water pollution (there are several shots of the water in the bayou littered once the drilling rig shows up), the speedboats whizzing by literally causing waves that rock the boats (canoes) of the locals.  It also captures some of the positives: the enchantment of progress, the high-tech gadgets, and money from oil production. In some ways it feels more even-handed, despite being commissioned by Standard Oil, than a documentary would.

If you want to get a feel for late 1940s oil production in shallow water, then I recommend you check it out.  I might blog a few more times about this movie, as there are a few elements worth pointing out.

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