ROBERT J. FLAHERTY: A Biography by Paul Rotha


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Written in 1959, this dense, scholarly critical-biography was considered too narrow for general publication; therefore, British filmmaker/scholar Rotha turned his manuscript over to popular writer Arthur Calder-Marshall--who used it as the basis for The Innocent Eye: The Life of Robert J. Flaherty (UK, 1963; US, 1966). Ruby re-discovered the original Rotha version in 1979, however, and found that it ""had a breadth and depth and, most important, a strong point of view that was lacking in The Innocent Eye."" So here--without updating--is a restoration of the Rotha book: ""the life and work of an American film pioneer from the viewpoint of a leader of the British documentary film movement who knew Flaherty for a major part of his professional life."" Rother provides a minute record--including the diaries of participants--of the making of the major Flaherty documentaries, from Nanook onward. (His pre-Nanook career is hardly touched on.) He provides close-ups of Flaherty in every stage of production and pre-production--stressing his money wrangles with the film companies, his troubles over editing (including not understanding ""the fundamental technique of film editing""), the role of his professional editors and the interfering Mrs. Flaherty. He finds a strong artistic development from work to work--culminating in Louisiana Story. And he deals fully with the conflicting opinions over Flaherty's deliberate recreations of the past in such films as Man of Aran; while defending instinctive-artist Flaherty in part (he ""was not a reporter with a camera but a creative artist""), Rotha finds the Aran misrepresentations hard to justify. (""Was Nanook really about Eskimos, or Moana about Polynesians or Man of Aran about Aran Islanders? Or were they the affirmation of belief of the golden boy from the mining-camp looking North to the eternal challenge to man's qualities?"") Somewhat lumpy in the writing--but a valuable addition to the Flaherty reference shelf and the ongoing Flaherty debate.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press