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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Silent Film Marathon: Final Film

Well, this marathon now comes to a close. It has been a most interesting and informative marathon that lasted longer than I expected.
As interesting as the marathon was, I still look forward to reviewing some more recent films, day after day of Silent film watching did get tiring after a while, maybe I had been over ambitious, but I'm pleased with the result.
If you want a complete list of the films I reviewed just click on this icon which you can find either in my review index or on my blog sidebar (where it will not remain much longer):

For this final post, I have decided to do away with my original plan, which was to watch and review the Soviet film Ivan. I was greatly disappointed by Arsenal, a film of the same director, so decided to remove Ivan and replace it by a more interesting film.
Over the course of the marathon I had seen a certain silent film mentioned in the comment section quite a few times, this would be Nanook Of The North.
I decided that this would be an excellent replacement as it is considered one of the staple films of the era. Luckily it was on Youtube in it's entirety.

Nanook Of The North (1922) was a ground-breaking film. No other word would be fitting as it single handedly opened up a whole new genre in Cinema, this is due to the peculiar nature of the film. It is an anthropological documentary. It is widely credited as one of the earliest documentaries in history and definitely the earliest to focus on a way of life of a people that at the time of filming were considered extremely exotic (which they are still considered to a certain extent today).

Although much controversy surrounds the film, which I'll elaborate on later on, it still remains one of the first films to actually go and film entirely on location in an extremely hostile landscape. This must have been amazing to watch when it was first released and incredibly informative, for the public's knowledge of the Inuits way of life and even of the landscape they lived in must have been rudimentary at best.

Nanook Of The North tells the story of Nanook, an Eskimo or Inuit (I prefer Inuit) and leader of a family group that lives in North Quebec, on Hudson Bay.
The film has no narrative, is rather unclear when it comes to dates and other such information but ultimately it is quite fascinating.
We see Nanook's everyday life, which revolves around food, the acquiring of food and eating of it. Such a simple existence that is life at it's most basic, closer to animals that modern humans. I sometime wish to return to such a simple lifestyle, free from all modern day worries which are ultimately meaningless when compared to the problems Nanook faces, the simple task of feeding his family and keeping them alive in such harsh conditions.And I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks such things.
But then I realise, I could never even hope to survive more than a minute in such a lifestyle.

But Nanook and his family do survive, even against overwhelming odds, they live through food shortage, ice storms and more.
We are shown the various inventive techniques he uses to survive in such conditions. I'm sure that these days some of these techniques will be well known, as we have since seen many documentaries and television series showing such things. But some of the techniques were wholly new to me, such as his use of some clear ice to form a sort of window for his igloo or the way they travel across water all packed into a single canoe. Some very interesting aspects of their lifestyle are revealed in this film. The visit to the trading posts, the hunting of the walrus, the trapping of the seal, the building of the igloo etc.

So the film serves it's primary purpose, which is to inform the viewer of this extraordinary lifestyle. This makes it easier to overlook the films flaws, such as the poor quality of the shooting, which I suppose can be blamed on the hash conditions and the unwieldy cameras.
The aspect the film has been criticised the most for is the fact that some of the scenes were staged, and that the director mainly used the project for personal gain than for any real desire to help the Inuits. I can forgive the few staged scenes, as it would have been near impossible to do otherwise considering the technology available at the time.
Also the fact that the director decided to ask Nanook to use traditional hunting equipment, instead of the gun he used, was clearly an attempt to keep the legend surrounding the Inuits in position. He wanted to show a rather stereotypical view of the people that wasn't as close to the truth as it could have been. He made Nanook into something of a hero, brave, tough and strong, using rudimentary tools to survive in a harsh landscape, this wasn't to far from the truth but it was still technically inaccurate seeing as Nanook used a rifle to hunt in reality and was not actually married to the women depicted in the film so did not have to provide for them.
This was rather disappointing to hear, and kind of takes away from the whole experience. But I can understand to some extent why the director chose to do it that way. To present a more idealistic people, less affected by European influence that they were in reality.

I also feel that the directors attitude towards the Inuits was very much of it's time, and honestly was not as bad as it could have been, it was slightly condescending and the way he manipulated them to achieve the result he wanted was far from commendable. But at least there is not overt racism on display, which would have made the film unpleasant to watch for a modern viewer, instead we have a sort of condescension and amusement for their quaint ways. Not really that offensive and definitely representing the attitudes of the time. 

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this film, is that it didn't focus so much on the character themselves as in their place within their environment, close ups are discarded in favour of wider shots showing the characters toiling against the elements.
This would surely be one of the first films to do so as it was one of the first films to be shot in such an "exotic" location.

So while the directors methods in making this film may not be particularly admirable, the result is still a wonderful piece of cinema.
It captures an exotic land in a way that had never been done before in Cinema, the landscapes are incredible and the characters are often little more than specks on a vast white landscape.
This alone is a reason to see this film, which despite it's problems I would still highly recommended as a very influential film that tells a charming if not entirely accurate story.

And so ends my marathon. I hope you enjoyed it, I certainly had a great time and it definitely got me motivated to writing more frequently, so I think this will be the first of many marathons on this blog, although future ones will probably be shorter.
My thanks go out to all readers who have followed the marathon or even read only one of the posts, I greatly appreciate it.

Now I'll be posting a few very different posts, I've got a few ideas lined up already, I just have to get writing.

On a rather unrelated sidenote, just before watching this film on Youtube, I watched The Man With The Movie Camera, I meant to write a piece about it but I wasn't in the mood to write about this piece of experimental cinema. It's certainly creative and has it's moments of brilliance, but it does get tedious quite often. Strangely enough since I was watchign the version with no musical accompaniment, I decided to play some music behind it so as not to get too bored, for some reason I decided on some of Frank Zappa's orchestral pieces and I have to admit it worked surprisingly well.
Anyway, an interesting piece of cinema, that was quite influential but hardly thrilling to watch.

As always comments are welcome and will be answered!

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