Nanook of the North Review

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Nanook of the North review: Composition and Historical value

Being one of the first feature length documentaries, it is obvious that Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North’s (1922) emergence served as a great model for all documentaries to come. The way it was structured from beginning to end was all part of the fantastic feel that Flaherty had in store for the world. His obsession with the primitive state and man’s fight for survival against nature’s resilient obstacles is precisely well represented in this film. Flaherty introduces us to a family of five, Nanook, his two wives Nyla and Comock and his two children Alee and Cunayou. As we must know when addressing any of Robert Flaherty’s documentaries, the characters that he has chosen to portray as a family are merely “actors” but there is a difference between these kinds of actor and those from Hollywood. All that he looked for in these individuals when picking them out was a pleasant face and aesthetical form in order to represent the people that he chose to portray as beautiful people. And so, calling these people “actors” is a bit too much, knowing that they themselves live in the same community that is being represented. Nanook of the North is not a Cinema Verité nor is it reportage. It is not a fictional film either but merely a representation of the simplicity and struggles in the everyday life of an inhabitant of this Eskimo population of less than three hundred people all spaced out along the shores of the Hudson bay on the Ungava land “A little kingdom in size nearly as large as England”. Now, obviously most of the traditions that Robert Flaherty chose to represent in his documentary in order to epitomize the Inuit way of living had already disappeared amongst these Eskimos, but that doesn’t mean that these practices were not once used. In order to fully portray his primitive and ideal simplistic theme that is ever so recurrent in his films, he had no space for guns and motorboats. Instead Flaherty...
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