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I will make every effort to moderate the tone of my response to Evan
Cameron in the hope that he will try to substitute logical discussion for
invective in his future communications.  I apologize for the length of
this posting.
 
Evan Cameron writes:
>
> Professor Langer seems to have difficulty rendering coherent not only
> Flaherty's work, but his own conjectures about it.
 
An excellent example of what I was complaining about at the beginning of
this posting.
 
I have no difficulty finding coherent elements in Flaherty's work.  I
simply pointed out that the film begun by Flaherty in 1913 was a completed
work.  It was exhibited in Toronto in 1915 and reviewed in such papers as
The Globe, The Toronto Mail and Empire and The Toronto Daily News.  Not a
frame of the earlier expedition footage survives in NANOOK.  NANOOK was
shot hundreds of miles away from the previous expedition footage, depicted
significantly different material, had a narrative of sorts, did not depend
on the use of an accompanying lecturer, had a completely different cast
and a continuing, central character, was made by a completely different
sponsor for a different purpose, and in almost every possible way was a
different film than the "first NANOOK."  Could you engage with my
argument with logical counterargument, rather than respond with insult?
 
What Langer said, and
> I contested, was that Flaherty had been "professionally trained by Kodak",
> bearing the full implication that the skills Flaherty brought to bear in
> the making of NANOOK and his later films were - contrary to his own
> testimony and those who knew best of his work - the result of prior
> "professional training" by others.  A 3-week crash course from Kodak,
> taken in 1913 at the suggestion of William McKenzie, amounts to being
> "professionally trained by Kodak" by no standard known to me nor to any
> one who later worked with Flaherty.
>
Perhaps Evan Cameron could answer the following questions.  Was Flaherty
trained in the use of amateur cinema equipment or professional cinema
equipment?  Was the Kodak course meant for amateurs?  What longer forms of
education (other than apprenticeship) was available for professional
cinematographers in 1913?  In short, can Evan Cameron demonstrate that
Flaherty was not taught how to use professional equipment by Kodak?  Can
his use of a Graflex still camera and Bell and Howell 35mm equipment be
considered the operation of amateur equipment?  Was the Akeley not a
professional machine?  Were non-professionals routinely using profesional
film labs in such marginal conditions?  Would seven years of experience
using professional equipment only qualify the practitioner for amateur status?
Would professional interaction with Curtis, Mawson and major motion
picture companies be the activities of an amateur?  I would like to read a
more compelling argument from Evan Cameron other than the simple repetition
that Flaherty was not a professional and that his training was not
professional training.  Repetition of your claims does not advance your
position.  Please respond to these questions specifically.
 
 
> As for the coherence of the earlier work on NANOOK with the latter,
> perhaps Professor Langer will someday inform us why his standard of
> identity (whatever that may be) should supercede Flaherty's own and those
> who knew him.
 
Perhaps Evan Cameron can provide some evidence from the time period in
question that Flaherty and those who knew him considered the two projects
to be the same.  I don't mean printed accounts after the fact, but
evidence from the 1913 to 1920 period, which is the period in question.  I
suspect that he is unfamiliar with the Flaherty papers and the evidence
contained within that would support my contention that these were separate
projects.
 
 The negatives culled from four expeditions beginning in
> 1913 were indeed burnt while being cut in Toronto in 1917;
 
Maybe yes and maybe no.  I haven't been able to find any contemporary
evidence of this.  I would be grateful, even delighted, if Evan Cameron could
provide me with some.  I do have evidence in a letter written by Frances
Flaherty on July 16, 1916 that Sir William Mackenzie was "holding on to
them [the motion pictures] like a leech.  I have given up the fight for the
pictures on R's account ...[to] make the pictures pay for future
expeditions of our own.  But Sir Wm. won't give them up."  If you can
provide some evidence that Sir Wm. did give them up, and that the negative
was then burnt while being cut in 1917, please post it.  But I can't take
anecdotal evidence provided years later as somehow proving definitively
that the negative burned while in Flaherty's possession.  I'm not saying
that the information in the papers definitely proves that the negative did not
burn.  It does strongly suggest that Flaherty did not have the negative,
and therefore casts doubt on his story.  Please make an effort not to
distort my position in your response.
 
Flaherty then
> convinced Revillon Freres to back the 1920 expedition which culminated in
> the successful revision of the project - and indeed, by 1920(!), Flaherty
> had lots of first-hand experience under his belt.
 
Thanks you for this concession.  One might even call him professional!
 
>
> To claim, however, that the northern projects which culminated in NANOOK
> were "distinct ventures" to Flaherty, because he took the opportunity to
> reconstrue and restructure the film between his initial and final attempts
> at it, simply begs the question at issue.
 
The "initial attempt" was a completed film.
 
The 1913 venture is related to
> the one of 1920 as neither are related to MOANA, MAN OF ARAN or LOUISIANA
> STORY.  The latter were "distinct ventures", as the phrase is commonly
> understood, though I doubt that the nuances of our language will stand in
> the way of Professor Langer's quest for deconstruction.
 
"Nuances of our language?"  My "quest for deconstruction?"  This wouldn't
be an unkind characterization, would it?
 
I like the selection of "distinct ventures" that you've presented, which
deal with different societies and which represent films that were produced in
widely spaced time periods.  Let me present a selection of Flaherty films
that are more directly linked in terms of time of production and subject
matter.  The so-called "first NANOOK" and "NANOOK OF THE NORTH" are as
distinct as MOANA, WHITE SHADOWS IN THE SOUTH SEAS, the incomplete THE MAD
MUSICIAN and TABU.  These four films are set in Polynesia (albeit at
locations as remote from each other as Baffin Island, the Belcher Islands
and Cape Dufferin), have different casts, different narratives, as well as
different production and distribution companies.  Would you argue that the
Polynesian films are just one production that culminated in TABU?  Would
you agree with me that they are distinct ventures, despite their common
links?
 
 
(As Bernard
> Herrmann once said to me about CITIZEN KANE, with reference to Ms. Kael's
> similar anti-authorial project generated without consultation with him
> or any other of Welles's coworkers, "yeah - the shoeshine boy did it!")
 
I refer to documents in the Flaherty papers and to the films themselves.
Could you explain why you regard my stance to be anti-authorial?   I do
refer to Flaherty's diaries and letters.  I must plead guilty to one of
your accusations.  Like Pauline Kael, I have not consulted with Robert
Flaherty himself, although I have spoken to some family members and
co-workers.  Unless you have received your wisdom directly from
conversation or correspondence with Robert Flaherty, I would like to know
how you could claim that your position is any different.  Since you are
making an accusation, I would like to have some concrete evidence as to why
you have characterised my position in this way.  Certainly a reference to a
hypothetical extreme auteurist position should not be misconstrued to be an
"anti-authorial" project.  Or is this simply name calling?
 
My position on the question of authorship in relation to Flaherty's work
is that a large part of his work has been excluded from the Flaherty
corpus because it doesn't conform to certain widely-held conceptions about
the "Flaherty Way."  Rather than denying authorship on the part of this
filmmaker, I have consistently called for a broadening of the scope of
Flaherty's work considered by scholars and for a reconsideration of the entire
range of his film work.  Feel free to check out my earlier postings in this
thread and my other publications on this matter before you come to your
conclusions on my "project."
 
>
> The fascination of Flaherty to so many who worked with him, of course, is
> that the glorified stories he (and his wife, Frances) later concocted
> around his production methods rested almost without exception upon a hard
> core of truth, as every coworker from Goldman to van Dongen and Leacock
> has attested.  (Dispite his disregard of them, I trust their testimonies
> are known to Professor Langer, or at least where to find them!)
 
I am unaware of any connection that Goldman, van Dongen and Leacock had
with Flaherty's work during the teens and twenties.  Isn't such evidence
commonly called hearsay?
 
Surfaces
> aside, the Flaherty myth matched the reality, in their judgment, to a
> degree altogether exceptional among filmmakers.  To careful historians,
> that doesn't mean you trust the myth; but it assuredly forbids one from
> junking it in the interest of an anti-authorial agenda.
 
I ask Evan Cameron to calmly and without insult or hyperbole explain what
he thinks my anti-authorial agenda is, and why he thinks that "glorified
stories that rest on a hard core of truth" somehow should be given equal
empirical weight with documentable evidence.  In what way does the simple
questioning of such things as the burning of the "first NANOOK" negative
"junk" the myth?  In what way does my reference to primary documentation
in the Flaherty papers in order to supplement or contest anecdotal
evidence by Flaherty and his coworkers disqualify me from being a "careful
historian?"  I'd like to suggest that Evan Cameron might do his position a
greater service by specifically dealing with the issues and questions of
evidence that I raise.  Ad hominem attacks do not really engage with my
arguments, nor do they answer the questions that I pose.  I acknowledge
his deeply held feelings about this.  Now, could we have a civil discussion?
 
And then, could we get back to some of the issues raised earlier by others in
this thread?
 
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Mark Langer
 
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