Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nanook of the North

Today's movie was really interesting, but maybe only to me. I watched Nanook of the North, directed by Robert J. Flaherty in 1922. It's got to be one of the first documentaries. It's silent, about an hour long, and it's so fascinating. It reminded me of an old book. I've got one at my desk with really cool binding, actually, that I keep meaning to pay for so I can just take it. See, I love old books. Often I don't read them, because I'm lazy and currently I have zero time to read. I have a bunch, though, and I have like, a fetish for them - I love going through them and looking at any annotation, bookplates, pictures, etc. I like them because I feel extremely connected to history when I look at them or read out of them.

This film was sort of like that. It wasn't really like, "an honest and excellent" documentary or something, but it was interesting. When I watched it, I could almost see the director filming it, and see the wonder that he felt for his subjects. It wasn't shot particularly well, but I was so interested in it. Interested in how this director navigated this territory with really, no rules or other films to guide him. I just liked thinking about it, and I felt that sort of connection to it that I do when I flip though an old book.

That certainly doesn't sound like the best endorsement. The plot isn't really thing, since it's a documentary. Obviously parts of it were staged, but that's just because in that time period, everything was staged. It didn't seem abnormal because there weren't really specific rules to documentary filmmaking yet. The film follows Nanook, an Eskimo, for about a year, as he live his life in the Arctic with his family, hunting, trading, building shelter, etc.

It's not the most exciting movie. I'm always sort of interested in things like this, though. I remember in a film class watching bits of a collection of short scenes that were shot with the first motion picture cameras. I just felt so enthralled by them. It wasn't for any real reason. I just felt so fascinated by how everyone dressed, what they were doing, how they were getting about. It was cool to basically look directly into the past, you know? Nanook is like that. It's not a stunningly made documentary, but it's so neat to watch it because you're seeing what life used to be like - not only for the Eskimos, but for the filmmakers as well.

I don't really know what else to say about the movie. However staged it might have been, there is something haunting and engrossing about how the director filmed Nanook. The way he calmly just regarded him and captured his life, without making a big fanfare about it. It's going to be impossible to forget Nanook, or his strength, or his perseverance. I don't know if other people would find this movie as interesting as I did. It's quiet and calm, and takes patience to watch. I think it's amazing to be able to see how people lived (or in this case, how people made documentaries as well), to see their clothes, the environment that they lived in. It sounds so boring, but I personally find it really interesting. This film was so unique because it wasn't just a camera pointed at Nanook and his family. Parts were directed, were staged, and it shows us so much about how films were made, what the director's intentions were. It's all just really neat. I had fun watching this movie, but I'm not sure everyone will have that experience.

Have any thoughts about Nanook of the North? Share them in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Nanook of the North
Buy it on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. " think it's amazing to be able to see how people lived"

    This movie does NOT portray the way those people lived!

    "Nanook" was in fact named Allakariallak (pronounced: [al.la.ka.ɢi.al.lak]), while the "wife" shown in the film was not really his wife.

    And Allakariallak typically used a gun when hunting, but Flaherty
    encouraged him to hunt after the fashion of his recent ancestors in
    order to capture the way the Inuit lived before European influence.

    Also, the claim that Allakariallak died of starvation is false. It was tuberculosis.

    The movie was STAGED.