Analysis Of Robert Flaherty's Nanook Of The North

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Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North is a silent ethnographic documentary following a family of Inuits living in the Arctic Circle. Regarded by some as a turning point for documentaries, it serves as a ground for debate around representation and ethics of documentary film. In 1922 Flaherty set out to record the previously unseen lives of the Inuit in snowy Alaska as they struggle to survive in such a harsh environment. Flaherty spent 16 months living with Inuit where he staged sequences of them hunting and building a life in the snow. This essay will discuss how Flaherty’s various stylistic, formal, and technical choices contributed to the overall impact of Nanook of the North.

Robert Flaherty is considered to be the father of ethnographic
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Rabinger (2009) defines form as the way a film presents its story, whereas style refers to characteristics that allow us to relate a film to other works like it. Nanook of the North has no diegetic sound and is narrated by words and human behavior. This is because the first sound recording equipment, used between 1928-50, relied on valve technology which made a noise when the film was pulled down to be exposed in front of a lens. “This intermittent motion of cogs produced a clattering sound that drowned out the sound” (Ellis, 2012, p. 35). So, the camera had to be soundproofed which made the equipment for sound cinema very bulky and impractical in the arctic environment. Therefore, Flaherty employed a linear narrative structure to depict the lives of the Inuit and create dramatic tension in scenes such as when Nanook killed the seal. The story is narrated using short screens of text between footage that very roughly describes what is occurring, combined with a soundtrack that was added …show more content…
Flaherty himself states that his aim was to capture how the Inuit truly lived (Flaherty , 1999). However, in actively crafting a romanticized and charming depiction of Nanook and his family around an ethnographic fantasy of monogamy, and a protagonist who echoed the ideals of the 1920s, he has inadvertently created a work of fiction. In a quest to make the documentary attractive to a western audience, he has transposed roles which his audience are familiar with onto the Inuit. The Inuit were dressed in traditional clothing with outdated weapons, who in reality wore modern clothing and used a rifle to shoot seals. Ironically, denying any impact of the modern world on the people he himself uses modern technology to film. The narrated passages are subjective and describe the viewpoint of the narrator. This can be seen when Nanooks wife puts her child with the young pups under the fur while they are being inspected by the trader and Flaherty says that she did so as “not to be outdone” by the cute dogs. Due to technical limitations of sound recording, it is impossible to know what was said by the characters and therefore what truly occurred. All we can take away is Flaherty’s understanding of the

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