Movie Review: Nanook of the North (1922) #atozchallenge

This is my entry for “N” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “N” documentaries I’ve reviewed are New York: A Documentary FilmThe 1964 World’s FairThe Night James Brown Saved Boston, No-No: A Dockumentary, and NOVA: Iceman Reborn.

Title: Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic
Release Date: June 11, 1922
Director: Robert J. Flaherty
Production Company: Pathé Exchange

It’s hard to pinpoint the first documentary film ever made.  The term “documentary” didn’t come into use until 1926.  But many of the earliest motion pictures made were documentaries in the sense that they documented events and everyday life as they presented the wonders of film. All that being said, there’s a good case that Nanook of the North is the first feature-length documentary.

On the other hand, not everything in this movie is factual, as Flaherty chose to stage some elements for dramatic and practical reasons.   The central figure “Nanook” is actually named Allakariallak, and the woman said to be his wife was not actually his wife.  The Inuit had adopted Western-style clothing and weapons by this time, but for the film they wear traditional clothing made of animals skins and hunt with harpoons instead of firearms.  It was impossible to fit the camera inside an igloo and have appropriate light to film, so a special three-sided igloo was built for interior shots.

Despite the film being more docudrama than documentary, I still felt a sense of awe watching these real live people from nearly a century ago, at the time my grandparents were still children.  And the Inuit we see are in fact kayaking through ice floes, hunting walrus and seals, and building an igloo.  It’s also impressive that Flaherty could make such an ambitious film in Arctic Canada with the limited technology available at the time.  Finally, Allakariallak shines through as a genuinely warm and ingenious hero of the film.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

Keeping in mind the caveats above about staged scenes, Nanook of the North still provides a glimpse into the traditional lifeways of the Inuit. The Inuit we see in the film are essentially reenacting the practices of their recent ancestors.  And as Roger Ebert notes “If you stage a walrus hunt, it still involves hunting a walrus, and the walrus hasn’t seen the script.”

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Listen to the music of Tanya Tagaq, and Inuk artist from Nunavut, Canada, who performs traditional throat singing and creates fusion with more contemporary styles of music.  Tagaq has even performed live musical accompaniment to screenings of Nanook of the North, which is something I’d really like to see!

Source: Kanopy

019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

A Song and a Story: “New York, New York” #AtoZChallenge

Frank Sinatra returns to A Song and a Story with his take on this standard of civic boosterism:

New York, New York

Officially this song is entitled “Theme from New York, New York,” but no one really calls it that, and I’ve got another song and a story for the letter T.  If you asked me as a kid, I’d would’ve told you that “Theme from New York, New York” was an ancient song, written shortly after Francis Scott Key composed “The Star Spangled Banner,” and possibly of greater significance to my parents’ and grandparents’ generation.  It was only later in life that I learned that song originated in Liza Minelli’s 1977 movie, and the ubiquitous Frank Sinatra version was released in April 1980, when I was already six years old!

I’ve never lived in New York, but my parents grew up there, my sister was born there, and I lived within 30 miles of the City until I went to college.  I’ve visited New York City at least once every year of my life and it’s an important place for me.  My childhood coincided with a time in the 70s and 80s that was not a good period for New York with an increase of violent crime, homelessness, and deteriorating buildings and infrastructure.  And yet at every public event, sporting event, or party I went to in New York as a child, I heard this cheerful song extolling the virtues of New York.  I think people gravitated toward the song whose lyrics gave them hope in bad times.

Among my childhood memories was going to the great parties my parents’ friends who lived in the City would throw to celebrate their children’s’ baptisms, first communions, and confirmations.  At one of these parties around 1982, the hosts set up a jukebox behind their house in the Rockaways.  You didn’t need to put in a coin, just pick a song and wait for it to play.  I was part of a group of boys who repeatedly selected the theme from “Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis and ran in slow-motion down the driveway, until one of the dads put the kibosh on that.  But no one objected to selecting “New York, New York” on the jukebox, and it played with greater frequency as the party went on. By the end of the night, I remember standing on top of a milk crate conducting a chorus of drunken adults as they crooned along with Frank Sinatra to “New York, New York.”

Today people associate Sinatra’s “New York, New York” with being the Yankees’ victory song, but dammit, it means so much more to me!

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – A Song and a Story

A: Always on My Mind
B: Baby Come Back and Baker Street
C: Cheek to Cheek
D: Don’t Worry, Be Happy and Doctor Jones
E: Everyday Sunshine
F: Fly Me to the Moon
G: Ghost Town
H: Hobo Humpin’ Slobo Babe
I: If I Were John Carpenter
J: Jungle Strut and Justified & Ancient
K: Kiss
L: Loaded
M: Marble Halls and My Moon, My Man

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.