Nanook of the North (1922)
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Having the name "Flaherty" and years spent in areas renowned for their cold climes did not make this movie a charming or pleasant experience.
Nearly every (to be incredibly generous) scene is staged, and the last scene is most certainly a set. The added depressing knowledge of the fate of various aboriginal tribes in the century after the movie's release only adds to the sense of helplessness one feels while watching the movie.
I feel the worst crime of the film is its legacy of clichés that persist to this day; igloos, sled dogs and "eskimo kisses" are all firmly established tropes that Flaherty is responsible for in his white-washed showcase of Nanook and his family.
An early silent documentary, Nanook of the North basically gave pop culture its Inuit stereotype (or Eskimo, which the film uses liberally but shouldn't, as the term is a racial slur handed down from more southerly tribes), but it has to be understood that what Robert J. Flaherty was trying to film was actually how Inuit families lived traditionally years or decades before 1922, possibly things he had seen in previous expeditions to the Arctic, ignoring a lot of the changes already taking place due to Western encroachment. So "Nanook" and his family are a retro-composite and so the film is better seen as a docu-drama. So if you're wondering how they got a camera into an igloo, etc., that's your answer. With almost 100 years between us and the film, what's a couple decades though? Nanook stands as a document of how traditional hunting, fishing, house-building and family life were done in the Arctic, and captures the harsh conditions, the danger, but also the joy of the Inu lifestyle. I watched it on YouTube where it had no music track, so I just put my music library on random. It started with Rush's Rivendell, which captured the melancholy North quite perfectly.
As a public domain film, it can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkW14Lu1IBo
Note the beautiful background music by Timothy Brock, which works excellently with the movie!
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In 17 official lists
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This movie ranks #2 in Harvard's Suggested Film Viewing: Non-Fiction Films
This movie ranks #2 in Library of Congress's National Film Registry
This movie ranks #6 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Documentaries of All Time
This movie ranks #14 in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
This movie ranks #31 in Silent Era's The Top 300 Silent Era Films
This movie ranks #32 in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema
This movie ranks #33 in The Criterion Collection
This movie ranks #39 in Paul Rotha's Silent but Not Forgotten
This movie ranks #53 in Mark Cousins's The Story of Film: An Odyssey
This movie ranks #70 in BFI's 100 Documentary Films
This movie ranks #210 in Anthology Film Archives's Essential Cinema
This movie ranks #281 in Roger Ebert's Great Movies
This movie ranks #304 in TSPDT's 1,000 Greatest Films
This movie ranks #567 in Sight & Sound's The Greatest Films of All Time
This movie ranks #597 in The New York Times's Book of Movies
This movie ranks #619 in The Guardian's 1000 Films to See Before You Die
This movie ranks #926 in UNESCO's Memory of the World