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Nanook of the North
The timing for this blogathon is perfect: the weather here in New York has been in the 80s and 90s and mostly sunny all week long. We're about as far removed from the winter as you can get.
Nanook of the North is one of the first true feature-length documentaries, the brainchild of explorer turned filmmaker Robert Flaherty. His initial job was to research the Hudson Bay of northeastern Canada, beginning in 1910.
In 1913, he took a three-week film course to acquaint himself with filmmaking in an attempt to better document his experience. When the time came to shoot, he chose to focus on the native Inuits of the region, specifically the hunter Allakariallak, also known as Nanook, and his clan.
The long road to a finished product was riddled with obstacles. You can read about them in Flaherty's own words here, but the result was a film, released in 1922, that was a critical and commercial hit.
I was surprised at how engrossing Nanook was. We see him ice fishing, hunting walruses and seal, building igloos, and raising his family the best he can under primitive conditions. The stark terrain doesn't look as intimidating as it probably was, on account of the grainy film quality, but Flaherty and his team get it all, during a time when the boundaries of film were still beginning to be explored.
As I watched, I had wondered about the authenticity of some scenes; call it the consequences of reality television permeating the zeitgeist. Turns out, quite a bit of Nanook was fake and staged.
Should it matter? Patronizing references to the "simple, happy" Inuit aside, I think Flaherty definitely knew his subject matter, if nothing else. It's unlikely anyone else at the time could have made this film. If he was upfront about how he had manufactured drama, well, keep in mind the documentary film as we know it wasn't real in 1922. As is usually the case, Nanook needs to be considered in the context of the time.
I watched Nanook at Virginia's place, on her laptop. She was out of town (still is, as of this writing; she comes back this weekend) and asked me to housesit for her.
I was glad to do it, since it meant living in Manhattan again, but I didn't get around to watching the movie until Friday night, because of a bunch of things that went wrong this week which I won't get into here. Suffice it to say that watching the movie, especially given the fact it was silent, calmed me down at a point where I needed it bad.
Other films set in the winter (a select list):
A Simple Plan
Murder on the Orient Express
War for the Planet of the Apes