Emerging Views: Chapter Nine Cajun Works and Works in Acadiana

This next chapter in Emerging views deals with all the photographic projects but focuses on the film made in Abbeville, rural Vermilion and rural Iberia Parishes. It deals with many of the aspects of the work which was being done and how that work tied into Acadiana experience before and after that film, Louisiana Story was made.  Here is a link of some use to those who might like to make a movie in Abbeville today.

But the work of sustaining a living community, of building a region and a set of local traditions, of continuing to enhance a regional and ethnic aesthetic — this work continues without ever stopping… It references the past and reaches for the future.

As I was on the way to the place where I am typing this post I took this set of photographs. In many ways a new public clock is a symbol and expression of a community tradition.

As I was on the way to the place where I am typing this post I took this set of photographs. In many ways a new public clock is a symbol and expression of a community tradition.

Today as I was coming to the Library to drop off some books and scholarly journals as a donation and to  dive right in to the public access internet in my current internet deprived state — as i was doing that I saw that at this moment and at no other they were putting up a traditional looking new clock where there has never been one in my memory. That is the way life and the life of a community evolve. New things occur which speak to us of a whole set of previous experiences and of future hopes and aspirations as well as of the current events going on…

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In that spirit I invite any readers to dive into the chapter of my intended Academic book in draft. Here is a pdf version: EmergingViewsChapterNineCajunWorksandWorkinAcadiana

 

Here is the text itself, beyond the draft issues there are reproduction issues which keep the readership here small. But between the twop versions available the dedicated few can find their way:

Chapter Nine:

Cajun Works and Work in Acadiana

 

In October of 2009 the University of Louisiana was involved in an activity which was both authentic in its connection with Cajun values and was also a promotion of the Cajun brand and names. On that occasion the University of Louisiana at Lafayette which is also l’Universite des Acadiens won the first place award in Market Viability for its Team BeauSoleil Solar Powered Home at the Solar Decathlon held at the Mall in Washington. This was a competition among teams which design homes that have green values and produce their own energy. The BeauSoleil home does all the things required by the contest but adds to those challenges the achievement of being hurricane resistant.

 

This kind of project is likely to receive a sympathetic review from the portion of the United States which has the most to do with publishing and reviewing Academic histories for example. Certainly the appeal of fur trapping and drilling for oil in the wilderness which form the two principal activities depicted in Louisiana Story. The issues related to fur-trapping and oil extraction are real and the whole panoply of environmental and animal welfare concerns which relate to those activities deserve to be considered seriously. However, beyond the issues of what is and is not good policy and proper behavior there is an issue of what is and is not likely to be perceived favorably. The Cajuns way of life has not always been one which was either very well or very badly received by the larger American society. But it surely is true that the concerns over fur and oil have a resonance in the genuinely more liberal academic environment which is especially affected by the pursuit money making ventures which are associated with the cruelties and risks of the world that the SONJ documentaries set out to capture.    

 

The Cajuns have been part of the landscape and it management in Acadiana for a long time. This  text does not adhere to the ideals of disinterested objectivity which have typified some decades and portions of academic history more than others. Relatively recent history of a region much connected with my own life and in an era in which many of the tendencies and arguments inherent to this text are very controversial and actively controverted make the only path graced with intellectual honesty a very different one than that of the disinterested social scientist. This is at all sort of levels a very personal kind of text. This contest also reminds me of other events that defined the relatively happy mix of times and persons on a campus that was both ethnically identified in some ways and also both cosmopolitan and diverse in other ways. In addition as a creature of its times it aspired to achieve sufficient conformity with standards set in the mainstream society and the world in general to be validated as an institution. The students involved in this competition clearly wished to take this occasion amidst all the other challenges to make others more aware of  the Acadian heritage of the University and to frame what was going on at the University of Louisiana and how the university’s certified excellence was touching the world in an ethnically rooted way in this one of many ways that it was touching the world in the time of the competition. The Solar Decathlon was in many ways a great competition to bear a name which is a tribute to the Captain of Attakapas Station Joseph Broussard and the other Beausoleil Broussards. First of all it has merit of being highly regarded. The Cajuns and the Acadian heritage does include a propensity to the earthy, the workaday and the populist modes of being and doing. However, Cajuns have also been very interested in trying to punch above their weight in a demographic sense in the world of honors and awards. From Prince De Polignac’s service with Alfred Mouton to Latour’s Knighthood in the 1620s and including some Academy Award recognition and a Pulitzer Prize for Virgil Thompson’s score in the case of Louisiana Story. There is in the life of Dudley Leblanc one achievement which distinguishes him beyond founding parks, organizing pilgrimages, writing books and holding offices and that is that one year in HADACOL was the second largest advertiser in the United States behind Coca-Cola. That achievement, although not exactly an award is open to all comers and allows an Acadian achiever to be compared  to other participants in industry across the country in the same year. While not exactly a Cajun, a woman from Abbeville with many blood ties to the Cajuns (but not in the ways that score most on genealogies) was Louisiana’s only billionaire on the Forbes list. Phyllis Miller Taylor was the wife of Robert Taylor, a successful  attorney and my grandfather’s law clerk as well as my relative. She was involved with her husband’s work in creating the Taylor  Opportunity Scholarship program known as TOPS which is much in the new as I write this and which has brought many Louisiana students to colleges and universities. That Forbes list appearance in itself matters because it is an objective distinction. The Solar Decathlon in 2009 and in all previous years drew some objectively  fine design talent to the capital city of the United States of America. All of them are a credit to the minds and talents of young adults dealing with the challenges that face our country and the world. The name is a credit to the way that the team identified with the Acadian heritage.

 

The Cajun house has received very little specific academic attention although more than one scholar have included some study of housing and house planning and styles much as I have in this text. However, it is an interesting subject in which many important elements of the culture and its relationship with the environment and the larger culture can be particulalrly well observed. The diversity of houses and the lack of an enormous population of people or houses have been among the principal obstacles to completing this task properly. But they have been studied and discussed in unpublished or minimally published works in the region for some time. One interesting question is, whether and a to what degree these vernacular architectural achievements and local  learned discussions of them influenced the team of designers in 2008 and 2009?

 

One of the problems among many others with the survival of Cajun House traditions is that the heat is the most destructive and brutal climate force between heat and cold in most years. The Cajun house was designed to be warm in the real but moderate winters and too use many features which combined to make it as comfortable as possible in the heat of summer. However, unlike warm climate houses which help the new forms of heat to function much as old forms of heat did, Cajun houses relied largely on a plan of controlled ventilation which does not work with modern air conditioning which uses little of the kind of cooling and ventilation processes that these houses included in the past.  An appendix in this text outlines the functionality of Cajun house traditions. But the point here is that the  challenge to the tradition inspires Cajun creativity and design at a high level.

 

Recent surveys such as those in 2012  discussed by Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Education  have shown that indeed there is a set of political tendencies which distinguishes  the Academics of the United States of America as being to the political left of the nation as a whole. That is relevant when a topic like work done by Standard Oil in the intellectual sphere is a part of the  focus of a given academic study. It does in some ways further complicate whatever propensities the academic community might have as regards the Acadian experience as a whole and the Acadian and Cajun elements of the Standard Oil documentary work in particular.

 

Academics in the humanities departments of the late twentieth century  and early twenty-first century United States are not perceived as being the people most likely to be enthusiastic supporters of trappers or drilling crews. Those facts are very relevant to the way that the film Louisiana Story is perceived.   In this chapter fur trapping and the oil industry will be discussed in some detail. However, they both exist in the category of work. The topic of work in the film and in the region is the topic we focus on in this chapter. The concept of work is very much a matter of great importance to almost any culture.

 

I want to mention Tom Gregory’s Emmy winning series Go Coast Louisiana made in association with WLAE and Public Television among other partners over recent years and relevant only a few years ago and let that be a last tie to the more nearly  present time before getting back to the ten years at the heart of this study. In episode six on Vermilion Parish he mentions the claim to being the most Cajun Place on Earth, the Queen’s Apology at the Acadian Museum, DL Menard’s music, Juan Miguel Nunez’s music, the way that the Richard Sale Barn became the Bayou Legendaire Concert Hall after the cattle auction business left the parish. He shows the whooping crane restoration project in White Lake and the Giant Omelette festival with a crawfish omelette and more than 5000 eggs distributed freely after the mayor pictured shouts “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!” He visits the local restaurants and comments on their good quality. He also shows images of churches and town squares that require maintenance. The story and images are real and tourism is a significant industry for Cajuns. Dudley Leblanc was among those starting to develop a plan to use these potential tourist dollars to help preserve the cultural legacy of the people and the region. In addition Gregory is not to be faulted for pursuing what was largely a tourism related agenda. But it is only by looking between the material presented and what he just alludes to that one can see that there is a region that values productive work which is struggling to deal with the fact that the larger culture is able to value its distinctiveness largely as a playground. Issues related to work and cultural identity remain very important to life in the region.

 

Flaherty’s last film  before the one he made in Abbeville was  made with the Communist leaning Grierson and was titled Industrial Britain. In that film in The Land which he made with Van Dongen, in Man of Aran and in Nanook of the North he showed the value of lives lived in some kind of work which however exotic remained a life’s work. It was a vital and central part of his vision of the human condition. Louisiana Story was, as much as it was  anything else, a film about work in rural Acadiana.

 

The American Dream appears to be offered to the fictional Latour family through Standard Oil or not at all. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.”

 

Adams in his Epic of America wrote of the American dream and created a phrase which has stood as one of our great ideals ever since.

But there has been also the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

 

And later Adams wrote with more specificity about this  vision of life which had so much to do with forming American society. It is worth considering this source and this early formulation of that view of American life.

 

:The American dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by

social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.

 

So if the Latours represented any life at all they surely did not represent the American Dream as it is usually conceived at least prior to the arrival of the oil crew and leasing agents or landmen. Perhaps the story is in large part about their gettting part of that dream. Clarence Faulk, a relative of J. C. Boudreaux  who worked mostly with Ricky Leacock in the making of Louisiana Story was unfamiliar with the oil industry’s inner working prior to working on the film. Clarence Faulk, recognized that many factors shaped his life but when interviewed for Reverse Angle he said he thought perhaps his interest in and his actual pursuit of the oil industry as a life’s work was due to his exposure to the industry and the opportunities it afforded as he worked on Louisiana Story. So there is that strong theme of the oil industry bringing something more like the American Dream to the trappers and other very rural people of Acadiana that is present not only in the film Louisiana Story but also in the rest of the SONJ documentary effort.

 

What other themes related to work may be discovered in this SONJ effort and in the historic cultural and economic situation that they came to portray? Certainly pirogue-making, homespun production, housekeeping in a cabin, trapping, alligator hunting and curing alligator skins were all among the kinds of work that were on the minds of those producing Louisiana Story. The larger SONJ project shows many other kinds of work in the region from gathering Spanish moss for upholstery, to fishing and on into crop-dusting. In addition there is in the film and the images as a whole a sense of the work of culture. The film actually emphasizes this less than the SONJ photographs in many ways. People here are working on maintaining and establishing the ties and common values that create and support a community experience and way of life.    

 

This sort of work and effort notable in SONJ photographic records of the blessing the fleet, the boucheries, going to church on Sunday and the pirogue races is also suggested more subtly in the film by Flaherty. These elements are not so much contrasted with the images of the oil industry, the school system (SONJ photographers were especially interested in people getting to and  from school by boat — especially where floating school bus routes existed) and the evidence of the government of the State of Louisiana and the United States of America. Rather all of these elements are woven together to create something more than the sum of its parts. The end result was what the documentarians clearly hoped was a single real and complete vision of Acadiana, the emerging oil industry there and the people whom they chose to capture in the lenses of their cameras.

 

There can be no doubt that the images depict the work of a region and its people. How well are badly they do so can be debated but not the fact that work is depicted.

 

One aspect of life in Acadiana is that it is a place more in line with the aspects  of American history which embraced a grand vision than many people realize. In fact there has been a continuous impoverishing of that aspect of American history which relates more to the Acadian and Cajun American experience. One can readily imagine  American history taught quite differently than it is and if in fact Cajun and Acadian experience ever were profoundly understood and fully appreciated it would require a very different teaching of American history. It is in that sense subversive of the current structure of American history. For one thing about the educational system that was captured in photographs of floating busses and schoolchildren is that it taught a curriculum not at all intended to respect or preserve any sense of Cajun reality, identity or community.

 

There were many ways of telling the story of American history and the way it was taught and written for students in schools could scarcely be less likely or less conceived to be supportive of the intellectual and cultural structure of the minds of the region and the connections that joined the people in the region. Schoolwork is a unique kind of work. There is no doubt that Cajun culture had become less academically inclined than it once was. Not that it was ever the most academically inclined society around but a great deal of what is said about the people of Acadie in regards to their academic life is a hodgepodge of calumny, bigotry, nonsense and downright lies. Dudley Leblanc is his work was much devoted to gathering evidence of three  sets of fact about the people of Acadie. The first set of facts relates to the fact that  the priests assigned to the ministry in Acadie were relatively learned men and that their work among the people included an educational aspect of church work. In addition he was able to gather evidence of family traditions which were both literate and fairly elaborate and constituted a separate highly literate community of the lay elite in the community. Lastly he was able to gather evidence of times during the horrors of the expulsion when the more common folk were gathered in internment sites without priests or their elite and from among their own ranks they were able to generate letters and documents which demonstrate not only literacy but also a real command of both language and the principles of law and the political and other protocols of the time.

 

The continuity and community which typified the Cajun experience had little to do with how America perceived itself in 1943 nor how it was perceived by other people in the years since the War Between the State.  Rudyard Kipling’s novel The Naulahka  is significant in describing and depicting how the British perceived much of America and its regions beyond the Thirteen Colonies. However, well or badly the novel described life in the rest of the country beyond the oceanic coasts of East and West it had little enough to do with Cajun experience as to nearly be a work about another world altogether.

 

A long excerpt of that novel captures a spirit very much in contrast with whatever the documentarians were doing in Louisiana. The work of building and developing America was part of the novel by Kipling and part of the narrative which Standard Oil was paying to create in the 1940s. However, the two stories are very different indeed.  They are not the only two relevant stories about the building up of America but they certainly are more complete together than either is alone.

 

There are other stories about American rural development and one of those stories shadows any story told about the Cajuns and other people in the Standard Oil Projects. That not so little bit of American history had a great deal to do with forming the documentary community as it existed by the time some of its members came to do the work they did for Standard Oil in Acadiana in the forties and early fifties. That period of American rural history is known as the Dust Bowl.

 

Roy Stryker became who he is in for history in large part through his involvement with the Federal Resettlement Administration which became part of the Farm Security Administration. That involvement really was born in the context of the Dust Bowl and formulating a Federal response to the Dust Bowl. The first film that Helen Van Dongen and Robert Flaherty collaborated in creating was the film The Land.  That film was largely produced by Pare Lorentz and in a sense a kind of sequel to his own directorial film The Plow that Broke the Plains. The Dust Bowl was in a real sense the greatest crisis across many measures to result from  a crisis of understanding and structure of rural work. The postwar swamp of the fictional Latour family is hardly a paradise of economic abundance. However, it is also very far from the site of a crisis like a Dust Bowl farm. Understanding work and rural work specifically is an important part of understanding these SONJ funded documentary projects in Acadiana.  

 

The Dust Bowl has captured the American Imagination in many ways. It is in itself the odd and complex manifestation of problems of the kinds of perception which are manifest in the situations and personalities discussed in this text. The Dust Bowl contributed to the great Westward migration of the 1930s and that set of nonfiction stories inspired the classic novel The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. John Steinbeck knew Pare Lorentz and this writer mentioned the correspondence between the two men which appeared in Lorentz’s posthumously published memoirs FDR’s Moviemaker: Memoirs & Scripts. That article appeared as I writing the first version of this text which was never published. However the review of Lorentz’s memoirs was published in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.  The connections between the Dust Bowl and the Oil Boom are worth discussing at much greater length and with greater seriousness than I can afford them here. Nonetheless some brief connections deserve to be made.

 

The Dust Bowl is tied to the Wheat Boom of World War One and the Roaring Twenties. In a real sense the perception of the horrors of the Dust Bowl created the perception of many other immigrants who far outnumbered them in the river of humanity going to California in the 1930s. No Man’s Land in Oklahoma was the heart of the Dust Bowl and contributed a few thousands are perhaps just into the tens of thousands of migrants to California. The fictional Joads of the Steinbeck Novel are driven mostly by the Great Depression  from the still functioning cotton fields of Eastern Oklahoma. But Dust Bowl refugees from Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Texas and a handful of Dust Bowl refugees from other states as well as migrants having nothing to do with the Dust Bowl from those and other states would all be termed “Okies” in California. While the times were celebrated by famed musician Woody Guthrie and the heritage was preserved  in the music of Country musician Merle Haggard and others this Okie ethnicity was created in a crisis and a migration. It has to some degree endured and it makes an interesting instance for comparison and contrast with the Acadian and Cajun rural identities.   

 

The similarities between the migrants from the Southern section of the Great Plains and the people of rural Acadiana facing a new oil economy was likely a kind of strong resemblance compared to life in suburban Vermont or Greenwich Village in New York City. Yet the distinctions between the Joads and the Latours are rather numerous and significant. Likewise are the real differences between the two set of historical people behind these two fictional families.

 

The Ken Burns documentary film The Dust Bowl is a pretty sound summary of the history of the era both as a human story and as an ecological disaster. It also has the added relevance of being a documentary film that documents the era leading up to the era in which the events detailed in this study began.   It is also true that like the Great Plains the Attakapas Prairie was described by many people who came here before the Cajuns settled it as a place not suited for stable agricultural habitation. Like Oklahoma and the the other Dust Bowl regions today there  is a stable largely agricultural and rural population in the region in the early twenty-first century. The recent year with Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Katrina and the BP-Transocean Macondo Oil Leak have some resemblance to the ten year horror of the Dust Bowl disasters.

 

However, the differences are very great. Most Dust Bowl refugees had lived in the region that became the Dust Bowl for two generations or less. Many had only been there on the land for twenty years or less before the catastrophe began. The Dust Bowl has a lot to do with the Wheat Bubble and the majority who pursued it enthusiastically, the crises on the coast that have affected life and living in Acadiana did not resemble that state of affairs at all.

 

The stories of the survivors of the crisis as recorded in the film The Dust Bowl as characterized by Ken Burns are based on a group of homesteaders who believed a number of highly advertised and highly promoted plans supported by the United States government.  The Acadians had come to the Attakapas region in the late eighteenth century. The structure of the land grants made  was not at all the same as those made to the early twentieth century settlers of America’s Great Plains. For the much remembered Joseph Broussard Dit Beausoleil it was only a place he would live for a few months. The Beausoleil Broussards dominated the land grants of lands in the Attakapas in every way. However other lands were made available as well. Whatever one may say of this people’s experience they had endured, reproduced, built churches and schools as well as levees and roads and dug wells and canals. They had by 1943 been involved in many a great human and historic adventure in their participation in American history and civilization.  The fact is however that the capacity to trace Cajun experience, productivity and prosperity in the years between 1865 and 1940.  

 

The was no State of Acadiana, American politics and economics as a system developed in ways that hid and camouflaged distinctively Cajun economic activity and institutionalization. There is a strong argument to be made for much of the growing economic consensus being hostile to Cajun interests. However, that is a separate question from whether or not the way Americans measured their economy was able to really measure Acadian traditional economics or the innovative development from that traditional base.

 

The temporary  home of Robert and Frances Flaherty in Abbeville was also their workshop and the nexus of the SONJ documentary operation in Acadiana. It is important to note that this base of operations existed within the context of a town which was very much at the heart of Acadiana. In fact  the work done there was very much work tied to the life of the region. The relationship between the Flahertys  was one which could be understood and respected in the Cajun heartland. They joined work and household in a way which appeals to the Cajun sense of what work ought to be. They were very impressed in general with the skills of the Cajun carpenter often simply called Hebert whom several felt was something of a crafts genius who filled the role of a whole props crew. For his part Robert Flaherty was close to the end of his adventurous life and it seems likely that he must have been somewhat the worse for wear. Yet he was among other things a master craftsman. Ricky Leacock later recalled that the film was hand-cranked camera work and the state of the art for a cameraman was two rotations per second but Flaherty cranked at three rotations per second. That gave him fifty percent better definition and motion capture in his images than the standard and when added to his obsession with perfectly stationary tripod support gave the images a relatively exquisite clarity and detail. This little hub of prosperous hard work was not immune to the attractions of money but other motivations were more important than the pursuit of wealth. that is also a very Cajun point of view which quite a few people have remarked on over the centuries. Of course the greedy, lazy, lackadaisical and merely grasping have occurred in this population as well as many others and oftentimes they have been more successful than their peers and relations who better embodied the Cajun ideal of work and workmanship.

 

The Plow that Broke the Plains by Pare Lorentz had premiered perhaps in two or three other places but it’s best known premiere was at The Mission Theater in Delhart, Texas.   The film featured a local farmer and its 1936 premiere was received less favorably than the 1948 premiere of  Louisiana Story was in Abbeville at the Frank’s Theater. The Mission was still screening films in 2010 as a twin whereas the family that operated the Frank’s had moved operations to a multiplex across town in Abbeville called the Lafitte Cinema. That movie house continues to prosper while the Frank’s is largely idle and in a kind of mothball status while a local organization called the Allume Society  struggles for funds and interest to maintain and restore it as a center for relevant community activities. The Mission where Pare Lorentz exhibited his propaganda film is now a church.

Local film, however, has become a significant part of the work, economy and life of the Acadian region. This occurs in a number of ways. Flaherty’s crew may have been the first to do a significant amount of work in Abbeville — but they were not the last. In addition to film in the sense of movies Abbeville has the Abbey Players theater, did have the Francophone Petit Theatre and has had its share of musical, theatrical and photographic presentations before and after Flaherty to the which the Flaherty’s definitely contributed something real in terms of becoming part of the local heritage. I myself while in undergraduate study and newly married worked for the rebooted film of The Blob largely produced in Abbeville. I was then made vividly aware of how many people i n 1989 made part of their living in the film industry from across the region. Many of those involved on the local end had been involved in Glen Pitre’s film Belizaire the Cajun. that film made with a budget of a million ordinary dollars was shot at the Acadian Village in large part where local people have donated houses, buildings and artifacts to commemorate their past. The park raises funds for the Louisiana Association of Retarded Citizens. Glen Pitre and his for profit Cote Blanche films also received the use of countless items for costuming and props as well as many hours of free labor.  This demonstrates the draw that film has a tool for preserving the local ethnic heritage. When the film celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary there was a 6:50 p.m. gla event screening at the Lafitte Cinema in Abbeville, Louisiana. Belizaire the Cajun also played there all that anniversary. It also played to good attendance on a number of other large screens and multiplex screens in the region besides the one in Abbeville and was written about in various places including my online presence. In my own account  I wrote a blog post and a similar note on Facebook even earlier in the week and began that note with an admonition

. “I want to say to start of this note that if you can make it there or to one of the other theaters where it is playing then I recommend you see it. It  is good art and a fine film which introduced many people to the idea of  traiteurs, a raconteur, a creole planter, a Cajun or any number of other things for the first time. Glen Pitre is an artist and is on my list here on Facebook at least until he reads this review and he has an eye which is a great credit to South Louisiana. Now comes the part that will possibly get one of my art world rivals to leave my Facebook friends list.”

Like Evangeline, people may have their criticisms of Belizaire but they do not publish them. I may have been a bit overblown in my comment but mostly that is because I am already a very marginalized voice in many ways. As with my criticisms of Evangeline what I have to say about Belizaire and Cote Blanche which are in any way derogatory still come from a fan’s appreacitive point of view overall. In both cases I much prefer having the works around than not having them around.

 

The founder (with others) of Cote Blanc and the director of Belizaire and other films often set in this region, Pitre is, as written earlier, a Harvard University man and sometimes his biases are formed by that experience in a university which has several times been at the heart of attacks, defamation and persecution of Acadians. The Cajun he chooses to portray is not the captain of the vigilantes such as the Moutons and Leblancs who had along with others held some wealth from the founding of the region and held their own against all comers. Rather he goes over to the other side which is also a real story in the character of the fictional  Belizaire Breaux.  this protagonist is a relatively  poor village healer who opposes an Anglophone incursion of Vigilantes in the Vermilion Parish area. He tells the visual and textual story that he chooses to tell very  well in the  film. The 1986  Armand Assante and was exhibited in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival. The cast has a great name and some local talent. The list of dramatis personae is:

  • Armand Assante – Belizaire Breaux
  • Gail Youngs – Alida Thibodaux
  • Michael Schoeffling – Hypolite Leger
  • Stephen McHattie – James Willoughby
  • Will Patton – Matthew Perry
  • Nancy Barrett – Rebecca
  • Loulan Pitre – Sheriff
  • Andre Delaunay – Dolsin
  • Jim Levert – Amadee Meaux
  • Ernie Vincent – Old Perry
  • Paul Landry – Sosthene
  • Allan Durand – Priest
  • Robert Duvall – The Preacher
  • Bob Edmundson – Head Vigilante
  • Charlie Goulas – Vigilante

The story is told with a cast of actors local and not local of varied attachment to the Cajun community.  Pitre is also a name of one of the Acadianized Scots families from the period before the success of Nova Scotia and the real conflicts set in. In itself the story of the Peters who became the Pitre family is a fascinating one which is not so far from the spirit that typifies Pitre’s own work. There is always a sense in his work too that he gives us a story in which he tells what is essentially a great and authentic narrative that is also sort of where one ends up trying to tell the Acadian story to undergrads and popular teachers at Harvard. It overlooks and undermines the story of a different Acadian element and experience operating within the larger community, ignore Acadian slaveholding. The Anglo Perry family did not lead the Vigilantes but were secondary or lower down in rank to the Acadian Moutons and to my own Acadian Leblanc ancestors. The Vigilantes did persecute some Acadian folk heroes and outlaws and people of mixed race ancestry who were Acadian on the White side but they hanged Germans, anglos posing as Acadians and black people as well. There is no simplicity in the events of that time and perhaps the movie tries to address centuries of ignorance in the national consciousness in a single film. I have watched it many times and find plenty to like in it but it is not history. It is only much more history than most Americans have of ignored Acadians.

Belizaire was well attended in its anniversary screenings and many cajuns own a DVD. I attended the feature of the Blob’s gala anniversary too and the local press and such were there and they interviewed me and others who worked on the film. The Lafitte Cinema does well enough but is only occasionally near capacity and then it is usually a young adult blockbuster filled with teens too young to drive in large part. But local films do well. I took the time to go to the jam packed premiere of the modest budget local film Blood on the Bayou, to  have a picture taken with the director who was also the star and to write and post reviews online.That 2013  film was a real effort to make a real movie which was largely an entertainment. However, it did a bit more than that. First it dealt with the racial boundaries,mixes, interplay and other conditions not of some fictional place but of a fictional version of Louisiana, Acadiana, Vermilion Parish and Abbeville. There was a little bit of an affinity to some of the Southern characters of fiction and screen that have come from Grisham novels and even more of a sense of being in communication with Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novel and their screen adaptations. But private investigator Travis Richard and the other characters are not rip-offs or imitations of anyone else.

The ring of truth is part of the movie from the landscapes and architectural shots bathed in natural light to the plot line which includes fishing, going out to the camp in the country which has been damaged by a hurricane and the fact that a stripper and prostitute is both very vulnerable and comes from a family that stay in touch with one another and care about her. This is a world those of us who live here and grew up here recognize. The assassination of the gubernatorial candidate played by New Orleans Saint Joe Horn may be attributable to race, class, greed corruption, political philosophy and the answers are not simple. The police and sheriff’s office play an important role but Richard moves in a big world that flows all around theirs and is made up of risks and demands that are related to his values. Richard is a Americanist in the political sense, a Saints Fan, a hard worker and a believer in tolerance for marijuana, sexually improper expression and the use of coarse language among men in his sphere. Cajuns could recognize both the character and Russell Hebert’s portrayal. While the film did not make a great deal of money it was unusually popular during its release in the region. . Personally, I thought that given the story and locale it was not real enough to do the show only in English. There should have been a few lines and phrases in Cajun and Creole French and maybe in Vietnamese. But it is evidence of the English language persistence of the Cajun culture as difficult as it may be to define compared to some times in the past. It also shows that film has become part of the work life of the ethnic community and the region.

The truth is that the work of daily life, the work of making movies and the work of preserving a culture have become inextricably linked. That has something to do with Flaherty and the making of  Louisiana Story.

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