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Cinematography in Nanook of the North

Camera movement, angles, editing, and critical reception of one of America's first documentaries.
by

Jillian Broaddus

on 13 November 2012

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Transcript of Cinematography in Nanook of the North

By Jillian Broaddus Cinematography and Realism
in Nanook of the North Initially hired in 1910 by Sir William Mackenzie to prospect the area east of the Hudson Bay for railway and mineral potential.
Film strips destroyed by fire
Flaherty wanted to "[Not] show the Inuit as they were at the time of the making of the film, but as [he thought] they had been" (Rony 101).
"One often has to distort a thing to catch its true spirit" (Marcus 207). Background: 1. Long Takes
2. Shot Types
3. Camera Angles
4. Deep Focus
5. Nondiegetic Elements So, how did Flaherty achieve a sense of realism in "Nanook"? Long Takes: 32- second pan
of landscape Walrus tug-of-war:
51 second take Window-making scene:
Over 3 minutes! No temporal duration editing and minimal cuts allows events to occur in "real time". Shot Types: Make us focus on the environment, which essentially CAN'T be faked. Extreme Long Shot: Especially with intimate scenes, close-ups allow viewers to connect more to the characters and increase believability. Close-Up: Medium Shot: Medium shots help the viewer to experience the action most accurately as if they were living among the Eskimos. Consistently shot at eye-level, except for when characters are sitting or elevated. By relating the camera to the eye of the viewer, a sense of realism is created. Camera Angles: Consistently from the POV of Flaherty Interestingly,
NO POV SHOTS! During the fox hunt, Nanook approaches the camera but the clarity of his image is constant. Also, Use of Deep Focus
Allows Viewer to Experience
Action as They Might in Reality: Nondiegetic
Elements: Inserts and Background Info: Much of the score seems monotonous, reflecting the monotony of the frigid, white world.
Music distracts viewers from focusing solely on the (potentially-feigned) imagery and adds to our emotional investment, rather than critical analysis. Music: Relating to Ideals of the 1920's / Referential and Symptomatic Meanings: Nanook's confusion with western technology
Cross-cutting scenes of Nanook's family with the dogs relates them closer to animals than to the Western traders. Behind the Scenes: "It was too dark [and small] inside the igloo to film, so a special igloo--in other words, a set--was constructed with one wall removed, and the family was filmed, in daylight, pretending to go to bed" (Matheson 13). Inside the Igloo Nicknames: Using the Inuit > Nanook (The Bear) = Allakariallak
> Nyla (The Smiling One) = Nujarluktuk (Not his real wife; actually his daughter-in-law!)
> Allegoo (son) = Phillipoosie
Community leaders wore Western clothing or highly prized caribou and seal-skin to indicate wealth

"Fit with the Southern imagination" (Rony 123). Costumes and Content (About the Walrus Hunt): Nanook said, "Yes, yes, the aggie (film) will come first" (Rony 120).

The Inuit no longer hunted walrus, and struggled, calling on Flaherty to use his gun, but "the camera crank was my only interest and I pretended not to understand" (Flaherty). The Walrus Hunt "The line at which Nanook pulls strenuously...led to a group of men off-camera, who would periodically tug at the line, creating the impression of a great physical struggle" (Rony 114). Seal Fight In "Nanook Revisited", members of the Inukjuak community are pictured convulsed in laughter over the seal-hunting scene. "It's polish as a film [elegant photography and smooth pacing/editing] serves to conceal its poverty as ethnography. Perhaps because Flaherty was an explorer... a romantic entranced with the noble savage rather than an observer serving science, we learn very little about the society and culture to which Nanook belongs" (Jarvie 196). Critical Reception "Some have argued that because scenes of everyday Quebec Inuit life were reconstructed to enhance the film's visual and narrative impact, it cannot be considered true science. Other anthropologists contend that cinematic representation can never be fully objective" (Rony).

"To some extent, Flaherty’s film resists classification precisely because the documentary did not yet exist as an identifiable genre in the early 1920s" (Marcus 202). "1920 is a long time before 'cinema-verite', and the documentarist can presumably assert that Flaherty was striving to be as honest and truthful as was possible for the time" (Jarvie). Casting by typage
Other Inuit contributed to all aspects of filming: acting, repairing equipment, printing/developing film, suggesting scenes to film, and directly operating the cameras Because fur prices were at their height in the 1920's, the Inuit in Quebec were introduced to a cash economy. Other Fun Facts: Flaherty was in the middle of negotiations with sponsors to make a sequel, entitled Iviuk, Son of Nanook, when the filmmaker died on July 23, 1951. Robert Flaherty had a son by Nyla (Nanook’s on-screen wife) though he never returned North and may not have known about him. His Inuit son was called Joseph, and he adopted his father’s surname. "Nanook of the North is 'a film for white people'...It is a film that gave American audiences visual confirmation of what they wanted to believe was true about themselves...Seen a century later, its depictions of life in the north now appear to be too far removed from reality to be taken seriously as historical representation" (Matheson 14). Ultimately, "Reception of the film as authentic is dependent upon preconceptions of the audience" (Rony 123).

"Documentary Film: intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purpose of...maintaining a historical record." Is it a Documentary? YES! > Not intended as a documentary, but Flaherty's techniques (i.e: long take) became genre conventions.

> No guidelines for Flaherty to follow; good intentions!

> Camera equipment made it mandatory to stage to some extent (no handheld, guerrilla-style).

> Regardless of which events were staged, the film stands as a fascinating look at a real culture that actually existed.

> Most forgeries are understandable to present the ancient traditions of Inuit "before it was too late" (Duncan). Is it a documentary? Notice other elements: camera angle, long take, deep focus, shot type...
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