Nanook of the North (1922)

 

This guy is the arctic bomb! And check out those snow pants!
This guy is the arctic bomb! And check out those snow pants!

Genre: Silent Documentary (USA, France)

Starring: Chief Nanook, Nyla, Cunayou

Directed By: Robert J. Flaherty

Overview: This is the story of a small tribe of Inuits as they trade and survive off the land in the arctic wilderness.

Performance:

The study of these characters is very impressive. These characters are rich in their own right and though they really don't talk, the appropriate focus is on Nanook, who leads, trades, hunts and helps build the igloos they stay in. The documentarist shot about a year's worth of film, so obviously they had a nice chunk to choose from. Completely natural.
Rating: 9

Cinematography:

The film itself is top quality. We see actual hunting and butchering of fish, walrus, seal and igloo building. The visuals are rather exciting, especially since everything they do is for their survival, and they can't do two takes. Their dogs, though rowdy, are frikken cute.
Rating: 8

Script:

There's really not much talking. There's a nice big intro at the beginning explaining at length how the film came to be and what happened to Nanook in the end (starvation unfortunately). The intro is a nice perspective and from then on it's mostly little factoids, stuff like 'the walrus weighs over a ton', or 'the reason they put the sleds on top of the igloos is so the dogs don't eat the seal-skin bindings overnight'. As documentaries go, it's really effective in sticking to the way this tribe does things and talking about nothing else.
Rating: 9

Plot:

The tale itself is simply the everyday life this tribe leads, from wresting dogs free of their power struggles, watching different hunting methods, to building igloos and watching wives chew the seal-skin boots in the morning, we learn how this culture adapted to the harsh arctic lifestyle. Pretty cool stuff if you ask me.
Rating: 8

Mood:

The thing about documentaries is, they tend to be the truth. Even in 1922 this film was making an attempt at breaking down stereotypes, if only a little. When disaster strikes, we're there wondering how they're going to pull through. When there's a hunt, it's exciting. Oh yeah, great mood.
Rating: 8

Only one of Nanook's two hot wives.
Only one of Nanook's two hot wives.

Overall Rating: 84% (Very Arctic-ulate!)
Aftertaste:

Sorry, I had to do that. After going through 19 or 20 movies on this list from the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, I've come to realize that it would not be the genuine source of Golden Pleasure that I expected, but the movies in it are certainly great starts. Sometimes I realize a film is more important than good. Not so with this one, it's amazing! Really original stuff, and think about the fact that this was almost 100 years ago, that's nuts. See it! It's cool.

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