Nanook of the North

Friday, 29 September 2006

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #33: Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North.


This is the third time now that I’ve seen Nanook of the North. I’m cur­rent­ly re­watch­ing films I’ve al­ready seen but not re­viewed that are on the Criterion list. Despite the fact that Nanook of the North is filled with more in­ac­cu­ra­cies and staged scenes than ac­tu­al ethnog­ra­phy, it is im­por­tant to re­al­ize that though much of its crit­i­cism is ac­cu­rate, it isn’t all jus­ti­fied.

Flaherty was blaz­ing trail for fea­ture length non-fic­tion film­mak­ing, as well as lo­ca­tion shoot­ing in harsh en­vi­ron­ments. The cam­era he used was so large that a non-au­then­tic three-walled igloo had to be con­struct­ed to al­low enough light and space in­side for film­ing to take place. He used this equip­ment in the Arctic, on ice fields and in bliz­zards and haul­ing it hun­dreds of miles. And while ac­tu­al­i­ties were com­mon fare at nick­el odeons, con­struct­ing a non-fic­tion nar­ra­tive of this sort had nev­er been done be­fore.

This is a sit­u­a­tion in which crit­i­cism should not be per­son­al. In hind­sight, tak­ing in the lega­cy that Flaherty cre­at­ed with doc­u­men­tary cin­e­ma, it is easy to rip Nanook of the North to shreds as more sto­ry than doc­u­ment, but aim would be bet­ter tak­en at doc­u­men­taries which are arranged in the style of Nanook and con­tin­ue to make the same mis­takes and fal­si­fi­ca­tions, of­ten deliberately.[Michael Moore, I’m look­ing at you.] In fact, I would ar­gue that Flaherty made no mis­takes in the film­ing of Nanook apart from be­ing care­less enough to ac­ci­den­tal­ly burn the neg­a­tives from his pre­vi­ous at­tempts at mak­ing it.

From an ethnographer’s stand­point, Flaherty’s in­sis­tence that the Inuit use meth­ods that were al­ready be­com­ing used less and less of­ten was in­spired. The preva­lence of firearms, Western build­ing ma­te­ri­als and mo­tor­ized wa­ter­craft was on the in­crease, and like­ly with­in an­oth­er gen­er­a­tion it would have been im­pos­si­ble to make a film like Nanook of the North. So Flaherty was un­know­ing­ly cre­at­ing sal­vage ethnog­ra­phy that has been equal­ly im­por­tant to an­thro­pol­o­gy as to cin­e­ma. It is no co­in­ci­dence that I watched this film once in a film class and once for an an­thro­pol­o­gy class. 

It is pos­si­ble to read the film as a meta-doc­u­ment about spec­ta­tor­ship in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry as well. Flaherty was clever enough to re­al­ize that he must craft a film that his au­di­ence would en­joy so we end up with pa­tron­iz­ing and ro­man­tic in­ter­ti­tles and os­cil­lat­ing shots of the Inuit as skilled and sim­ple [Nanook and the gramo­phone be­ing a prime ex­am­ple of the lat­ter] but al­ways as sav­ages. Flaherty’s pres­ence as a char­ac­ter with­in the film is min­i­mal, un­like in Hoop Dreams [an­oth­er Criterion ti­tle] where the di­rec­tor acts as a par­tic­i­pant-ob­serv­er.

Ultimately, I think it is im­por­tant to rec­og­nize the faults in a film like Nanook of the North while not hold­ing it against the film­mak­er. This film is tru­ly a land­mark of ear­ly cin­e­ma, so it is no sur­prise that its form con­tin­ues to be copied even to this day. Mistakes and all, and even by those who should know bet­ter.


• Watch the en­tire film at Google Video.
• How I Filmed Nanook of the North by Robert Flaherty.
Criterion Essay by Dean W. Duncan.
Roger Ebert es­say.
DVD Outsider Review.
• Misrepresentation of re­al­i­ty in Nanook of the North [with a tiny video clip] Full project on the film here.
Gerhard Lampe’s aca­d­e­m­ic analy­sis of Flaherty’s style.
The Criterion Contraption’s re­view.

Beer and Grassroots Activism

Thursday, 28 September 2006

I was at Edison’s last night meet­ing with some neigh­bor­hood folks about a pos­si­ble syn­er­gy be­tween the lar­val Tremont Civility Project and a pos­si­ble men­tor­ing pro­gram to bring to­geth­er new res­i­dents, long-time res­i­dents and even longer-time res­i­dents. I al­so got pret­ty drunk.

Rogue Brewery’s Dead Guy Ale

This ale was mod­er­ate­ly hop­py with a thick grain and fruity hints, per­fect for a fall af­ter­noon or sum­mer evening.

North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

This im­pe­r­i­al stout de­serves be­ing named for a man with an eleven inch pe­nis that was wor­shipped as a fer­til­i­ty charm. A strong rooty front note fades in­to a hint of anise and some sort of wood fla­vor. The fin­ish is al­most too smooth, with­out the lin­ger­ing stout fla­vor I’m used to. This might be be­cause it was bot­tled. 9% by vol­ume. I don’t re­al­ly know what I’m talk­ing about here if you hadn’t al­ready no­ticed.

Flying Dog Brewery’s Pale Ale

Now that it is morn­ing and I’m sober, I ac­tu­al­ly think I’ve had this be­fore. I can’t re­al­ly re­view it be­cause I think it act­ed as a palate cleanser af­ter the Old Rasputin. I re­mem­ber that it was about as hop­py as Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA.

Palma Louca

This Brazilian Pilsener was the sur­prise of the night. I don’t re­al­ly like pilsen­ers, but my habit at Edison’s is to al­ways try a beer I’ve nev­er had be­fore. I be­lieve this is now my fa­vorite south of the bor­der beer. It beats out Pacifico, Dos Equis, and Corona in terms of fla­vor and re­fresh­ment. And it didn’t even have a lime in it.

Round VII — Third Night of Interviews

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

I swung on up to Ohio City last night for some sushi from Kimo’s be­fore go­ing to the last night of in­ter­views for this round of Neighborhood Connections Grant-mak­ing. Kimo’s was closed again. The third time in a row this has hap­pened to me. I know he does the sushi for the Indians, and that its a big ac­count for him, but it is a has­sle to get there and find out he is closed. I guess I’ll have to start call­ing first. Maybe he could use a web­site to keep folks in­formed? Instead I went to Heck’s again. I’d last been there over a year ago with Patrick in our quest for the best burg­er in Cleveland. I wasn’t im­pressed with their burg­er then, and I wasn’t im­pressed with the pas­ta dish I got last night. The food was good enough, but I can and have made bet­ter at home.

The six in­ter­views we had last night switched back and forth be­tween sports/​exercise pro­grams and ed­u­ca­tion­al pro­grams. Unfortunately the same prob­lem we’ve had in the past al­so came through with sev­er­al of these groups. Most or all of the mon­ey would go to pay them­selves or their busi­ness. I’m sor­ry, but if you re­quest $5000 and all of that mon­ey is go­ing to pay for mem­ber­ships to the busi­ness you own you aren’t go­ing to get the mon­ey. Similarly, if you re­quest $5000 and all of that mon­ey is be­ing split be­tween the work­ers at the busi­ness while claim­ing their hours as in-kind con­tri­bu­tions, you’re not go­ing to get the mon­ey. I think that is one of the pos­i­tives hav­ing com­mu­ni­ty ac­tivists as the grant-mak­ing com­mit­tee. We know all of the tricks peo­ple will use to make a buck. I won­der what it says for the Cleveland econ­o­my that small busi­ness­es are so des­per­ate for pa­tron­age or cash that they’ll cre­ate one-off pro­grams and hope the fund­ing source doesn’t look too close­ly at their ap­pli­ca­tion.


Tuesday, 26 September 2006

A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #23: Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop.


This is a good time to explore the Criterion Collection's mission statement, since I know plenty of people think that having RoboCop on a list with The 400 Blows and 8½ is an abomination.

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, is dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements.

RoboCop is the kind of film on which an enterprising and lazy film student could base an entire thesis. It is a post-modern masterpiece, in both lit-crit and cult-crit usages of the term. While films like The Terminator and The Matrix are also excellent post-modern films, they lack a certain cultural applicability that is the main motive force in Verhoeven's image of the future. To call RoboCop a comedy or satire is to do it a great disservice. It is often barkingly funny, but the pervading brutality, callousness and cynicism is not present for its own sake but to flesh out an idea and warning about Verhoeven's prediction of cultural evolution in the late 1980s. The fact that RoboCop is more and more often billed as a comedy does more to strengthen the prescience of the film than anything else. We laugh at RoboCop because we are continually becoming closer to the future it predicts. We laugh because it is correct, even though we don't want to believe it.

RoboCop, therefore, becomes the poster child of post-modern man. And there is nothing funny about him. While gay gang-member drug dealers blow apart Detroit with huge guns held crotch-high spurting fire [No, I am not kidding], RoboCop is driven by his prime directives to bring justice to all and sundry but for a select few. He is a man imprisoned within circuitry, who can feel his family although he cannot remember them. With a subjectivity so fractured and controlled by corporate and political interests there is little cause for RoboCop to accept the name of the dead man he is [Are all cops named Murphy?] or to accept anything at all.

RoboCop is far too sympathetic a character to be funny. Despite all of the strictures placed upon him, he strives to be as autonomous as possible, to live up to obsolete standards in a cutting-edge environment with ADD newscasts NUKEM board games; he ultimately triumphs because his prison is also his weapon. So if that isn't reason enough to include RoboCop in the Criterion list, nothing I can say will change your mind.

I can't end this review without mentioning the stop-motion animation debt that the film owes to Ray Harryhausen. I love that man, and were it not for him, the ED-209 and the 6000 SUX commercial, integral to the cultural aroma of the film, would have not been nearly as effective.


Criterion Essay by Carrie Rickey
• YouTube clip of RoboCop's introduction, one of cinema's great reveals.
The RoboCop Archive
The Criterion Contraption's review.


Monday, 25 September 2006

Buckwheat BlessingYesterday was a terrible day to be heading west on I-90. I hit Buffalo right after the Bills game got out, had torrential downpours all the way to Cleveland and arrived back in town right when the Browns game finished. People were driving and not-driving like jackasses in the rain. The people pulled over on the side of the road didn't turn on their hazards and there were people driving in the rain that had no lights on at all as well.

I picked up Mark Z. Danielewski's latest while I was in Canada and an annotation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings that I've never seen in the states. It cross-references with his Letters and other primary and secondary source material [much of which I own] so I'll be geeking out in Tolkien-land for awhile.

I ate much delicious food and managed to find a Notre Dame fan to watch the friggin' game with.

Beer and Sushi

Friday, 22 September 2006

I’m in Kingston, Ontario, Canada at the mo­ment and just got back from the Kingston Brewing Company Limited where I had a Dragon’s Breath Real Ale, which is an English-style ale, non-car­bon­at­ed and hand-pumped from the tap. It was thick and grainy like you’d ex­pect from an English Ale, and very smooth to drink, es­pe­cial­ly for me, since I tend to gulp non-car­bon­at­ed bev­er­ages. I al­so had far too much sushi to­day.


Thursday, 21 September 2006

The night be­fore last I met a rel­a­tive­ly new Tremont res­i­dent for beer and tacos at the Lincoln Park Pub. We spent near­ly two hours chat­ting about the var­i­ous places we’d lived in Indiana, job prospects and how to fix Cleveland. Yesterday I was go­ing to write more about this, but due to a pow­er out­age, I had no in­ter­net ac­cess. They end­ed up send­ing us home from work at 11, af­ter near­ly three hours of sit­ting in the dark. So, I did what any red-blood­ed American man would do with an ex­tra 4 hours of time in a day; I went shop­ping. I fi­nal­ly found a re­place­ment hood­ie, even though it is brown, not black, slight­ly dis­tressed and from a com­pa­ny called American Rag. At least it doesn’t have a lo­go on it and I am now warm. It does have an in­side breast pock­et which will be per­fect for my cam­era when I’m out and about.

When I got back to Tremont, Rafiq need­ed a ride out to E.91st and St. Clair so I took him and a friend out there and spent a sol­id forty min­utes talk­ing po­et­ry and the artis­tic process with the friend. I’ve for­got­ten his name be­cause I’m a jerk. Friend is go­ing to LA for a few months for some in­ten­sive writ­ing with a cre­ative part­ner in crime and from the few glimpses I had of the work he has done and has planned, he’s go­ing to cre­ate some fierce stuff.

The weath­er yes­ter­day was the sort that on­ly ap­pears in the fall. Brisk and most­ly cloudy, most­ly nim­bus but ragged in shape and er­rant in move­ment that light from the sun kept leak­ing around them all and mak­ing the whole day in­to a fleet­ing gold­en hour.