In this blend of documentary and fictional narrative from pioneering filmmaker Robert Flaherty, the everyday trials of life on Ireland's unforgiving Aran Islands are captured with attention to naturalistic beauty and historical detail.
Robert J. Flaherty
Colman 'Tiger' King,
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A surrealistic documentary portrait of the region of Las Hurdes, a remote region of Spain where civilisation has barely developed, showing how the local peasants try to survive without even the most basic utilities and skills.
Documents one year in the life of Nanook, an Eskimo (Inuit), and his family. Describes the trading, hunting, fishing and migrations of a group barely touched by industrial technology. Nanook of the North was widely shown and praised as the first full-length, anthropological documentary in cinematographic history. Written by
Years ago, in high school, I had to sit through a creaky, dim and dirty, silent black and white documentary about some Eskimo. I remember nothing of the film except that I didn't like it. Today, I had the opportunity to see a recently restored and nicely scored re-release of that film: Nanook of the North. After all the National Geographic, Nova, PBS and Discovery Channel documentaries I have seen over the years chronicling the lives of aboriginal bands of people, (aboriginal people often wearing Coca-Cola T-shirts and baseball caps), this classic 1922 epic is the best I've ever seen showing a happy people working desperately to survive in an incomprehensibly harsh environment. It is quite a compliment to the film and its subject that it retains so much power almost 80 years after it was created. The film simply documents a small group of Inuit and their children in northeast Canada as they struggle to live from day to day. That these people survive at all, let alone remain a seemingly happy, life-loving team in such a place is mind-boggling. So many of the brutally realistic scenes in this wonderful film remind me of how sterilized many contemporary documentaries have become. We see the necessary brutality of finding, stalking and killing your food. Then slicing up your kill right there on the ice and eating it where it died. We witness Nanook harpooning and then `reeling in' a walrus, catching fish with no hook and no real bait and somehow knowing where to dig a tiny hole in the ice. Then, through that tiny hole, he spears and battles to bring in a seal. And he succeeds. But more than the environment and more than the struggle, what keeps us watching this film is character. Nanook is the chief of the small tribe and the father in the main family that is followed. He is smart, curious, inventive, determined and, at the core, a happy, gregarious character that we learn to laugh with, root for and celebrate with as he keeps his family fed. His children are an absolute delight, playful and endearing, seemingly oblivious to the awful world in which they live. The film seems to have no artifice at all and everything seems to be a regular part of their life with little attention paid to the camera. If you are a lover of the documentary form, you cannot miss this re-release. It appears to have been struck from a near pristine negative and restored to its original length of somewhere over 65 minutes. The pleasant score is not too obtrusive and sounds as though it may be a reconstruction of the score composed for the theatrical re-release of the film in 1939, but the credits aren't completely clear on that. See this film.
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