[Marxism] Nanook of the North

Louis Proyect 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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