moods of modernism… berlin to the bayou

Post war American movies were locked into a pattern that began when Shirley Temple saved Hollywood studios from completely going under and were “rescued” by Morgan and Rockefeller money and then the post WWII era saw the norm being movies like “Wilson”  There were exceptions like Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder but the standard fare was unobtrusive cultural propaganda, outdated doctrine, escapism, bathing beauty dog show frivolty; a kind of psychological re-education and political shaping that could also be exported to Germany and her allies as well.

---Often considered to be Robert Flaherty’s masterwork, Louisiana Story is the culmination of Flaherty’s poetic method, formally and thematically drawing together the promise that can be seen in Nanook of the North, Man of Aran and The Land, with a mediation between modernity and regionalism. While The Land marks a shift from the pre- modern nostalgia of the early film to an engagement with modernity, Louisiana Story directly addresses the issue of the environmental impact of mechanisation upon the pristine environment of the bayous of Louisiana in a film sponsored by Standard Oil albeit with the approval of the sponsor.---Read More: image:

There were a few marked exceptions in America that took the form of the semi-documentary, far from the tinsel and kitsch of Los Angeles studios. These were Louis de Rochemont’s spy thriller, The House on 92 nd Street, Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story that told with articuate pictorial poetry of discovery of oil in a Cajun bayou and the alterations thereafter in the lives of a simple Cajun family; and The Quiet One,Sidney Meyer’s intelligent, merciful study of a maladjusted African-American.

---Groundbreaking and trendsetting as it was in its day, The House on 92nd Street plays a bit differently sixty years after the fact. Despite the journalistic flourishes, the film betrays itself early on as FBI propaganda, fudging the facts and telescoping several true crime events into the fictional "Mr. Christopher Case." (Reed Hadley's end narration boasts of the fierce justice meted out to the convicted spies but in truth the majority of those arrested spent months in prison rather than years and no one connected with the Duquesne Case was executed.) The film's atomic angle - the Third Reich's pursuit of the top secret (but entirely fictive) "Process 97" - was added in postproduction, after the August 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and barely a month before The House on 92nd Street's September 10, 1945 premiere. --- Read More:|0/The-House-on-92nd-Street.html

But, even these exceptions can be termed propaganda, especially 92nd ( FBI ) and Louisiana ( Standard Oil) . All were conceived as responses to neo-realismo cinema in Italy, but despite the doctrinal element, each succeeded at dealing with the issue of modernism. Despite the flaw of Quiet dealing with Black reality as seen through white docu-fiction.They are all somewhat based on the template of the American film programme in Germany after the war, but it attaches the poetic to the gritty, raw footage and use of live location and genuine footage that these information controlled films brought to bear on de-Nazification.


Unlike Flaherty’s earlier films, Louisiana Story marks a reconciliation of industrial modernity, initially dealt with in The Land, with an edenic regionalism apparent in the likes of Nanook and Moana. In this reconciliation it is possible to understand Kracauer’s enthusiasm for the film whereby the alienation from the modern world is directly addressed through its filmic representation. The response to modernity imposing itself on the environmental and psychic realms of post-war capitalism is countered through Flaherty’s insistence on a naive vision that promotes a sense of wonder at not only the natural world but at how that natural world can be understood in the face of the industrialisation of this eden. For Flaherty and Kracauer, the poetic rendering of the world makes it possible to re-engage the spectator who feels that they have been alienated from things such as the “the ripple of leaves stirred by the wind”  or, in the case of Louisiana Story, the ripples on the water stirred by the passing of a canoe.Read More:

The Quiet One…Levitt and Loeb chose to employ a fictional story, that of Donald Peters, a lonely Harlem boy whose plight is set in relief against the lights and vibrancy of city life. In his 1950 review, Vinicius de Moraes put it perfectly:

Donald Peters wanders on the sidewalks of Harlem in silence. The city’s sounds are separate from his constant cruel incomprehension. He is a prisoner of his unloved condition, and his feet, as he kicks them along the pavement, always carry him back to the vortex of his loneliness, to the hostile house where his old grandmother, herself desolate, offers him more than “duty without love” in Agee’s excellent phrase; where he is thrashed “in the same old hopeless confusion”, to find himself again in “the sick quiet that follows violence”, in an atmosphere of “rage and pain and fear and hatred” where he is nothing more than “a heavy burden for an old woman”. Read More:

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