Nanook of the North


Nanook of the North
Nanook of the North
Directed by Robert J. Flaherty
Produced by Robert J. Flaherty
Written by Robert J. Flaherty
Starring Allakariallak
Nyla
Cunayou
Music by Stanley Silverman
Cinematography Robert J. Flaherty
Editing by Robert J. Flaherty
Charles Gelb
Release date(s) United States June 11, 1922
Running time 79 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

Nanook of the North (also known as Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic) is a 1922 silent documentary film by Robert J. Flaherty. In the tradition of what would later be called salvage ethnography, Flaherty captured the struggles of the Inuk Nanook and his family in the Canadian arctic. The film is considered the first feature-length documentary, though Flaherty has been criticized for staging several sequences and thereby distorting the reality of his subjects' lives.[1]

In 1989, this film was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Contents

Film

Nyla, wife of Nanook.

The film was shot near Inukjuak, on Hudson Bay in northern Quebec, Canada. Having worked as a prospector and explorer in Arctic Canada among the Inuit, Flaherty was familiar with his subjects and set out to document their lifestyle. Flaherty had shot film in the region prior to this period, but that footage was destroyed in a fire started when Flaherty dropped a cigarette onto the original camera negative (which was highly flammable nitrate stock). Flaherty therefore made Nanook of the North in its place. Funded by French fur company Revillon Frères, the film was shot from August 1920 to August 1921.

As the first nonfiction work of its scale, Nanook of the North was ground-breaking cinema. It captured an exotic culture (that is, Indigenous and considered exotic to non-Inuit peoples) in a remote location, rather than a facsimile of reality using actors and props on a studio set. Traditional Inuit methods of hunting, fishing, igloo-building, and other customs were shown with accuracy, and the compelling story of a man and his family struggling against nature met with great success in North America and abroad.

Assessment

Flaherty has been criticized for deceptively portraying staged events as reality, although staging events for the camera was the norm of documentary filmmakers of the time.[2] "Nanook" was in fact named Allakariallak, while the "wife" shown in the film was not really his wife. According to Charles Nayoumealuk, who was interviewed in Nanook Revisited (1988), "the two women in Nanook - Nyla (Alice [?] Nuvalinga) and Cunayou (whose real name we do not know) were not Allakariallak's wives, but were in fact common-law wives of Flaherty."[3] And although Allakariallak normally used a gun when hunting, Flaherty encouraged him to hunt after the fashion of his recent ancestors in order to capture the way the Inuit lived before European influence. On the other hand, while Flaherty made his Inuit actors use spears instead of guns during the walrus and seal hunts, the hunting actually involved wild animals. Flaherty also exaggerated the peril to Inuit hunters with his claim, often repeated, that Allakariallak had died of starvation two years after the film was completed, whereas in fact he died at home, likely of tuberculosis.[4][5]

Flaherty defended his work by stating that a filmmaker must often distort a thing to catch its true spirit. Later filmmakers have pointed out that the only cameras available to Flaherty at the time were both large and immobile, making it impossible to effectively capture most interior shots or unstructured exterior scenes without significantly modifying the environment and subject action. For example, the Inuit crew had to build a special three-walled igloo for Flaherty's bulky camera so that there would be enough light for it to capture interior shots.

At the time, few documentaries had been filmed and there was little precedent to guide Flaherty's work. Since Flaherty's time both staging action and attempting to steer documentary action have come to be considered unethical amongst cinéma vérité purists, because they believe such reenactments deceive the audience.

In popular culture

In literature and publications

  • The novel The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis, mentions the movie in an impersonation by Daniel Watson, the father of the family.

In music

  • Australian alternative rock band, Regurgitator, parodied Nanook of the North in the 1995 video clip for their song "Blubber Boy".
  • Frank Zappa dreamed he was Nanook in his 1974 song "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow".

Onscreen, in film

  • Kabloonak is a 1994 film about the making of Nanook of the North. Charles Dance plays Flaherty and Adamie Quasiak Inukpuk (a relative of Nanook) plays Nanook.
  • In the film, The Lost Boys, Corey Haim's character has a dog named Nanook.

Onscreen, in television

  • In the Deep Space Nine episode "His Way", the station Chief of Security Odo is compared to Nanook of the North because of his icy personality.
  • In the cartoon Hey Arnold!, Grandpa Phil's pet name for Arnold is Nanook.
  • The title of an episode of The Powerpuff Girls, "Nano of the North", is a clear parody of Nanook's title.
  • The 1993 Rugrats episode, "The Blizzard"[1], featured an attempt by the babies to reach the "North Pole" in their back yard, aided by "Angelinook of the North">
  • In the 1988 Night Court episode "Danny Got His Gun: Part 2," episode 103 (season 6), Dan is rescued from a plane crash in Alaska by an Inuit family. The episode contains several overt and situational references to Nanook of the North.

See also

Spiromoundsraccoon.gif Indigenous peoples of North America portal

References

  1. ^ "Essay by Dean W. Duncan". Criterion Collection. http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=33&eid=49&section=essay. Retrieved May 18, 2007. 
  2. ^ "Richard Leacock Essay (Flaherty's Cameraman in the '40's and later MIT professor of film studies)". http://www.afana.org/leacockessays.htm. 
  3. ^ Defamiliarizing the aboriginal: cultural practices and decolonization in Canada By Julia Emberley, p.86
  4. ^ Pamela R. Stern, Historical Dictionary of the Inuit (Lanham, MD:Scarecrow Press, 2004), p. 23.
  5. ^ Robert J. Christopher, Robert and Frances Flaherty: A Documentary Life, 1883-1922 (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005), pp. 387-388

External links


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