[Marxism] Nanook of the North
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon May 6 13:58:34 MDT 2013
I guess many of you are aware that I have been writing film reviews for
Counterpunch on a fairly regular basis for a while now, although I
hesitate to call them film reviews since they are mostly about politics
rather than tracking shots, performance, etc. For example, the last one
was on the Mizrahim, the Arab Jews, as represented in a couple of films.
I am also contributing editor to the magazine that launched in January.
I have tried to write fairly complex articles for the magazine and would
recommend the one I have in the April issue about Robert Flaherty's
groundbreaking documentary. Here are the first few paragraphs:
Introducing a screening of Robert J. Flaherty’s 1922 masterpiece “Nanook
of the North” at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in New
York on March 3rd, Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq there to provide
musical accompaniment warned the audience that her people were not
cheerful despite the words that appear near the beginning:
The sterility of the soil and the rigor of the climate no other race
could survive; yet here, utterly dependent upon animal life, which is
their sole source of food, live the most cheerful people in all the
world--the fearless, lovable, happy-go-lucky Eskimo.
When Flaherty began filming, the word documentary did not exist. If
required to depict the Inuit in cinéma vérité fashion, the director
would never have bothered since his professed goal was to show the Inuit
as they lived before they became corrupted by outside civilization. This
meant, for example, directing Nanook to hunt seals with a handcrafted
harpoon rather than a rifle as was customary at the time.
In a 1990 documentary titled “Nanook Revisited” that does aspire to
historical accuracy, the production team went to Inukjuak, the village
in northern Quebec where Flaherty shot his film, to interview relatives
of Nanook’s contemporaries as well as knowledgeable villagers. The
manager of the local television station Moses Nowkawalk was both amused
and annoyed by inaccuracies. For example, Flaherty had Nanook looking
mystified by a phonograph player and taking a bite out of a record but
Nowkawalk points out that the villagers had been listening to records
for years. A cruder version of this scene took place in the 1980
narrative film “The Gods Must Be Crazy” with Kalahari Bushmen worshiping
a Coke bottle tossed out of a airplane.
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