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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
As a documentary turning point, Nanook of the North is undoubtedly one of if not the most significant work of the twentieth century. The story of Nanook and his family became the center of attention of the national media and virtually altered the perceptions the world had of film for documentary purposes. Flaherty may be to the documentary world what J.R.R. Tolkien is to the fantasy world. He is the giant of the genre. For its time, Nanook of the North was a masterpiece. Simple and profound, the story of Nanook was unique, and henceforth the foundation upon which the great documentarians of the 20th century created their works. However, through hindsight, the film falters. Most noticeable is the fact that Flaherty composed each of these sequences ahead of time and purposefully altered Nanook's life in order to make it seem harsher. In what is one of the most famous scenes, Nanook laughs at a phonograph and bites into a record as if he does not understand it. However, it was discovered later that not only had Nanook seen phonographs before, but he was a regular visitor to the trading post, owned a snowmobile and a rifle, and had probably seen a record player before. This fact puts into question the strength of this work as a documentary. Flaherty defended himself, claiming that some things need to be altered in order for the message to be seen. However, this is what we in the film world call "fiction". Plenty of fiction is based upon fact, but when you call something a documentary, it is held up to a different standard, one that Flaherty's work, although, good, fails to achieve.
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