Nanook of the North

with

Palo’s Wedding

 

Nanook of the North

Screenplay by Robert & Frances Flaherty

Photography by Robert Flaherty

Edited by Robert Flaherty

Music by Timothy Brock (for this edition)

Produced by Robert Flaherty

Directed by Robert Flaherty

Theatrical Release: 1922

 

The Wedding of Palo

Screenplay by Knud Rasmussen

Photography by Hans Scheib & Walter Traut

Edited by Georges C. Stilly

Music by Emil Reesen

Sound by Poul Bang & Walter Traut

Produced by Robert Flaherty

Directed by Friedrich Dalsheim

Theatrical Release: 1934

 

Production Studio:

Theatrical: Pathe Exchange

Theatrical: Palladium (Wedding of Palo)

Video: Flicker Alley

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 1.37:1 / 1.22:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD-50

Feature size: 18.6 GB / 16.4 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate (ca. 25~30 Mbps)

Runtime: 78/72 minutes

Region: All

 

Audio:

English Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono)

 

Subtitles

None

 

Bonus Features

Nanook Revisited (1988) – 65:40 min.

Houses of the Arctic (1928) – 11 min.

Arctic Hunt (1913) – 15:50 min.

Primitive Love – extended excerpts (1927) – 32:35 min

Eskimo Hunters of Northwest Alaska (1949) – 20:25

Face of the High Arctic (1959) – 12:50 min

Booklet

 

Presentation:

Blu-ray case: 2 x BRD

Street Date: March 19, 2013



Product Description (Flicker Alley):

This edition is mastered in high definition at the visually correct speed from the painstaking 35mm restoration of 1972.  Selected for the National Film Registry, 1989.  The two disc set is a double feature with six remarkable bonus features: Nanook of the North (1922) and The Wedding of Palo (1934).


        


Nanook of the North (1922) Robert Flaherty made this wonderful film of Eskimo (Inuit) life following six years as an Arctic explorer for the Canadian Northern Railway. During journeys often lasting months at a time with only one or two Inuit as companions, he developed a deep regard for these indigenous people and after two unsuccessful filming attempts, Flaherty seized upon the idea of structuring his movie around characters who reenacted episodes of their lives and participated in the shaping of the film.  He was not trained as an anthropologist, but Flaherty wisely guides our discovery of the people and their activities, and ninety years later, Nanook remains as completely engaging as it was in 1922, a huge influence on many ethnographic films that followed.  This edition is mastered in high definition at the visually correct speed from the painstaking 35mm restoration of 1972, with a lovely orchestral score composed, compiled and conducted by Timothy Brock.


                 

 

The Wedding of Palo (Palo’s Brudefaerd) (1934) Nanook’s obvious successor, is the last beautiful work of the famed Danish polar explorer and anthropologist Dr. Knud Rasmussen.  Filmed in sound with an Inuit cast from the Angmagssalik district of east Greenland, Palo, like Nanook, documents a vanished lifestyle and uses Flaherty’s device of an appealing narrative; in this case, a story of two men who desire the same woman as wife.  It is mastered in high definition and digitally restored from an original 35mm nitrate print in the collection of George Eastman House.


        

 

Critical Press

Chicago Sun-Times

The film is not technically sophisticated; how could it be, with one camera, no lights, freezing cold, and everyone equally at the mercy of nature? But it has an authenticity that prevails over any complaints that some of the sequences were staged. If you stage a walrus hunt, it still involves hunting a walrus, and the walrus hasn't seen the script. What shines through is the humanity and optimism of the Inuit. One of the film's titles describes them as "happy-go-lucky," and although this seems almost cruel, given the harsh terms of their survival, they do indeed seem absorbed by their lives and content in them, which is more than many of us can say.

Flaherty went on to make more sophisticated films, notably "Tabu" (1931), an uneasy collaboration with the great German filmmaker F.W. Murnau, who was more interested in story and style than documentation; "Man of Aran" (1934), about the hard lives of the Aran Islanders off the coast of Ireland; "Elephant Boy" (1937), starring Sabu in a fiction based on a Kipling story, and "Louisiana Story" (1948), in which a young bayou boy watches as an oil rig invades his unspoiled domain. The later films are smoother and more conventionally beautiful, but "Nanook" stands alone in its stark regard for the courage and ingenuity of its heroes. Nanook is one of the most vital and unforgettable human beings ever recorded on film. – Roger Ebert

        

LensViews: 9

Robert Flaherty is often called “the Father of the Documentary” and when we look at Nanook of the North we can see why, especially as we realize how no one before him (as far as I know) had gone to such lengths to capture such footage AND make a feature-length film out of it.  One thing, though: Nanook of the North is not really a documentary, at least not by today’s standards, nor would it be acceptable as an Oscar nomination.  Why not, you ask?  Two reasons: There really is no “Nanook” – the figure in the film is “played” by an Inuit that Flaherty came to know and spent considerable time with, along with his family. The second reason is that a number of the scenes in his film are staged.  When you think about it for a moment, how else could he have shot them?  The seal catching scene through the ice is one good example.  Flaherty has only just so much film and he can’t wait all day with camera running for the seal to show himself.  And all that comical tug of war between Nanook and the seal. According to Claude Massot’s 1988 “Nanook Revisited”, that’s not the seal tugging, but an assistant at the other end pulling on cue.


        

 

All the same, the truth is still there. And so was Robert Flaherty. And so was life in that Arctic world – a life that had held to its way for centuries until Europeans brought guns and snow tractors, airplanes, Christianity, public education and materialism, to say nothing of transforming a self-sufficient people into a dependent one.


Danish filmmaker and explorer Friedrich Dalshiem made the sound film The Wedding of Palo in 1934. It is as much - or not - a documentary as Nanook. It is about the Angmassalik, the indigenous people of Greenland, and takes place in Greenland’s eastern coast.  I found the story less compelling, but no less interesting than Nanook, only because survival is not the issue here; the setting is more varied and less desolate.


                 

 

Image: 7

Until now we have relied on Criterion for the only serious video transfer of this important film.  Flicker Alley’s high definition transfer makes it clear just how limited, if not actually flawed, that effort in standard definition was.  Even a casual comparison reveals more light, detail, especially in the shadows (yes, there are shadows) and best of all, more accurate tone and contrast – the exception being the walrus hunt where Flicker Alley opted for better shadow detail for the backlit hunters, thus completely blowing out the froth of the surf. An unwise choice, in my opinion.  The image quality for The Wedding of Palo is quite a bit better.


        

 

Audio & Music: 5/6

Flicker Alley did such a good job with the video transfer, it’s a bit puzzling that they didn’t bother to push the “lossless” button instead of tired old Dolby Digital for Timothy Brock’s original score for this edition.  Even though the music is all we hear, it’s not the end of the world. That is reserved for Flaherty’s magnificent images.  As for The Wedding of Palo, there is both an orchestral score whose lack of dynamic range and constricted sound takes a bit of getting used to, as does, in its way, does the dialogue track, which strikes us contrived and “staged” with all too much laughter.  All the same, we take it for the utterances of these people, and for that we are grateful.


                 

 

Extras: 9

Nanook Revisited (Saumialuk) by Claude Massot. made in the same locations used by Flaherty, shows how Inuit life changed in the intervening decades (it’s not that different from ours), how Flaherty consciously depicted a culture which was then already vanishing, and how Nanook is used today to teach the Inuit their heritage. Nanook Revisited was produced in 1988 on standard definition video for French television.


Houses of the Arctic (1928) is the igloo-building sequence of Nanook re-edited and re-titled as an educational film. Arctic Hunt (1913) and extended excerpts from Primitive Love (1927) are by Arctic explorer Frank E. Kleinschmidt. Eskimo Hunters of Northwest Alaska (1949) by Louis deRochemont shows many activities seen in Nanook thirty years after, and Face of the High Arctic (1959) depicts the ecology of the region.

Finally, a 32-page booklet contains extended excerpts from My Eskimo Friends by Robert Flaherty on his time spent making the film and an new essay on The Wedding of Palo by Lawrence Millman.


        

 

Recommendation: 9

Two important films about a time and people now very much changed. Though not strictly speaking what we would call documentaries today, they still convey essential truths and unvarnished visuals. Flaherty is considered to be the “father of the documentary” and despite criticisms of staging, we can see why.  Dalsheim’s film is more up front about its contrivances.  The author appears in the opening minutes to help set up his story.  The transfers are likely to be as good as we will see them for home video for many years to come.


I do want to register one objection, however, in respect to how this set is marketed.  I’m happy that Flicker Alley has given us both films.  I am much less happy that they did so on two single-layered discs instead of one in a thinly disguised effort to seduce the buyer into thinking they are getting more for their money than they are.  One BD-50 would have cost less, too, thus lowering the price to the consumer.  That nuisance aside, this new Blu-ray of Nanook of the North is warmly recommended.

 


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

March 20, 2013

 

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