Silent film with captions and nice instrumental sound-track. I got this film after reading a short biography about Robert Flaherty. Be sure to pay attention to the early scene in the film when Nanook pulls up to shore in his kayak and the moments after he gets out.--surprising and funny and amazing. What a life! What hardships! I highly recommend this historically significant film. Spoiler alert--don't read the next patron's comment until after you see the film.
In 1922 Robert Flaherty created history filming Nanook of the North, for it became the first successful commercial feature documentary. More amazing, the startling contrast of the Inuit hunters and families, seen through the leader Nanook's eyes, from America's Roaring Twenties at the same time. In an era when President Harding made the first presidential speech on radio, the Inuit's heard sound from a gramophone for the first time. Watching their amazement as a trading post white man cranked the box becomes one of the movie's many highlights. In fact the entire film is a highlight such as: watching Nanook catch and then kill his fish . . . as he bit its head. Imagine the taste; yuck! No wonder the people kiss by rubbing noses, which a mother demonstrates with her youngster. Complete with a new digital transfer preserving this time in history forever, the Criterion edition also includes a remarkable interview with the widowed Mrs. Frances Flaherty. She worked with his films along with receiving an Academy Award nomination of her own for Best Original Story in 1948's Louisiana Story. Still, the everyday life of the Inuits, even then, seems so foreign: bathing the baby by using a cloth dampened through the mother's spittle, consuming delicious Walrus blubber, their version of butter, raw off the still-warm carcass, or sliding the baby into the new ice hut by using a small sled through its narrow passageway, never warmed above freezing inside of course. The daily battle for life on these harsh ice flows of the Canadian Arctic never relents. Yet Nanook's wife, Nyla, never seems to stop smiling. Flaherty's curiosity led to his multiple expeditions there; his genius forced him to learn cinematography so he could film and then develop the images while there to know what his shots looked like. His first filming in 1916 went up in flames as cigarette ashes lit the highly flammable film of the period into a bonfire. The struggle for financing took five years, but by August 1921 his new movie, now more focused on one family, wrapped. Of course, what's a great movie without controversy? Nanook had its share, but the most interesting occurred on the namesake's death. Coming two years after the filming, Flaherty said Nanook died from starvation. Critics argue death came from tuberculosis. Flaherty made his film just in time as customs, dress and armament among the families already began reflecting Western civilization. That is the beauty of Nanook of the North. As Roger Ebert said, "It has an authenticity . . . What shines through is the humanity and optimism of the Inuit." Nearly 70 years later, the movie became one of the first 25 selected [out of 1,000 nominated] for the National Film Registry. That it now lives among 675 great movies of all time provides its honor and significance; that the spirit of the Inuits survived a time of significant changes and remain here for all to see, that's the reward for the rest of us.
Flaherty recreated an experience of the North that no longer existed when he made this doc, taking things back 2 generations. so he is famous for creating the documentary form, but it begs the question, was he 'documenting' or creating an illusion.
Melanie McGrath, a writer, writes that, while living in Northern Quebec for the year of filming Nanook, Flaherty had an affair with his lead actress, the young Inuit woman who played Nanook's wife. A few months after he left, she gave birth to his son, Josephie (December 25, 1921 – 1984), whom he never acknowledged. Josephie was one of the Inuit who were relocated in the 1950s to very difficult living conditions in Resolute and Grise Fiord, in the extreme North (see High Arctic relocation). According to McGrath, Flaherty knew of his son's difficulties, but took no action.
Quite dated, but an interesting film of a way of life that has since been surpassed.
This is ethnographically priceless footage, regardless of whether the story it tells is "true". Consider it of its time, regarding the narrative approach; viewing it through modern eyes and attitudes is not kind to the intent. This Criterion Collection version is likely the cleanest print you're going to see of the film, and the quality of the on-location cinematography is outstanding. Yes, it's a bit of a curiosity, but it is worth seeing for itself.
Superb documentary of Inuit family, filmed in 1922.
If you have any interest in the north, and any knowledge of the current situation in Nunavut, I highly recommend this DVD. Make sure you watch the extras...
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