Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Nanook of the North

Written, directed, shot, and co-edited by Robert J. Flaherty, Nanook of the North is a silent docudrama about an Inuk man named Nanook and his family living in the Canadian Arctic region. Considered to be one of the very first examples of the documentary, the film follows a man’s life in the course of three weeks as it play into the lifestyle of a man cut off from the modern world. The result is a fascinating film from Robert J. Flaherty.

Shot in the Canadian Arctic region north of Quebec, the film is a look into the life of a man named Nanook (Allakariallak) and his family living in the cold and unforgiving environment. Through the usage of inter-title cards, the film showcases the life of the Inuit people and how they survive through the harsh conditions near the Arctic such as trading, hunting, and building igloos. While it is later revealed years after its 1922 release that director Robert J. Flaherty would stage some scenes in the film for dramatic purposes such as the building of the igloos, the trade post scene, and a walrus hunting scene. It does show an idea of what life is as it play into the world that is removed from conventional society.

Shot on black-and-white with some colored filters, Flaherty’s direction would feature a lot of wide and medium shots to capture the location with some close-ups to get a look into Nanook and his family as they’re also played by actors. Still, he captures something that does feel authentic in the way he films the life of Inuit settlers and how they manage to endure the harsh cold weather of their environment. Though there’s some moments in the film where the pacing is sluggish due to scenes that do go on a little long and it gets repetitive despite some nice editing by Flaherty and co-editor Charles Gelb. Still, Flaherty gets a very engrossing look into the life as well as how they kill seals and catch fish to feed their families. The film’s music by Timothy Brock from its reissue in the late 1990s is mostly piano-based music that has a sense of melancholia to play into the hardship that these characters endure.

Nanook of the North is a marvelous film from Robert J. Flaherty. Whether or not it can be truly defined as a documentary, it is still an important historical piece that showcase the ideas of what a documentary does in revealing life as it is no matter how foreign it can be. In the end, Nanook of the North is a splendid film from Robert J. Flaherty.

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© thevoid99 2017


Chris said...

You're right that the finished film was not quite as authentic as it appears, the filmmaker staged a few sequences for entertainment value. The making of the film is almost as interesting as the film itself, dealing with the freezing cold. Back at home, the film reel literally caught fire, so he had to start over. Which he did. What stayed with me the most was the smiling face of Nanook.

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-Yeah, I heard about that as Flaherty had to re-do everything and create something as if it was a documentary. It's flawed but still worth watching.