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07 April 2012

Nanook of the North (1922) [Silent Film-a-thon 2] 3#


Directed by: Robert J Flaherty
Genre: Documentary
USA, France
Black and White, 79 Minutes
When watching this film, you see the documentary genre at an early stage before it became a format to ‘document’ events. As a silent documentary, you can be rest assured we still see a fascinating account of things that remain interesting. I believe this is the first documentary ever to be made, if not it is certainly one of the first next to Haxan. The film follows a family of Eskimo’s and how they survive in the blistering cold, and by the end of the film, you will have some appreciation as to how they go around doing it. Nanook of the North displays courage and survival of an Eskimo family creating a today-fascinating documentary.
Modern audiences have argued that the film is staged and that the events and expressions from actors that we see are all a fake. I believe that the footage taken is not staged as from what we see, everything seems genuine. The locations, the emotions and even in the scene involving the Eskimo’s cutting the skin of a walrus; everything is genuine in my eyes. And, if not, then this film is simply a piece of great fictional filmmaking. Either way, this is a great film that is insightful.
The creator of the film, Robert J Flaherty, spent a year following Nanook and his family, were he then through post-productionc ompiled the clips to create what we see today. The thing that fascinates me the most is how he has captured the family in their day to day duties in survival. Here, we see their culture which strongly differs to the likes of USA, Europe and whatnot. Here, we see happy people out in unimaginably cold weather surviving. It is fascinating to see how they get around and live. 


In the film, we get to see the creation of an igloo, and a fascinating process it is. First, we see a whole being made in the ground, which walls are then built around. Then, a half-sphere shape is formed. From the inside, a whole is cut for the entrance. But it does not end there. For light, and heat, a whole is made in the igloo where a large block of ice is then placed. To reflect light into the igloo, a block of snow is placed on the outside of this window. This I found surprising as this is a method used in photograph known as ‘soft-boxing’.  Unknowingly, the Eskimo’s knew a technique of photography.
Another truly impressive thing I found was the fact that there is a silent film shot in such locations. In The Gold Rush (1925), we see Chaplin shooting on location in quite cold and snowy areas, but here, we see full-blown deserted locations. Due to there being very primitive technology at the time, it is often hard to see what is going on in the picture, but it gives it a nostalgic authenticity today.
Nanook, the titular character appears to be the hero of our story. As the father and head of the family, he is a symbolic figure of courage as we see him travelling and hunting throughout the film. The protector of the family, and the somewhat leader; this is something that remains identifiable with this film.
Verdict: Nanook of the North is filled with fascinating footage of a real-life Eskimo family that shows them up close for what they are. For today’s audiences it is all the more fascinating.
Rating: 8/10


IMDB Rating: 7.9/10


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