Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Nanook of the North
Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North is known as the grandfather of all documentary films for many. Flaherty and his crew traveled to the Canadian Arctic to film the Inuit Eskimo Nanook and his family in their natural habitat. We see Nanook battling the elements, hunting for Walrus hide, building an igloo and in one of the film's lighter moments we see Nanook and his family popping out of their canoe one by one. We also see Nanook at the trading post with a famous scene of the Eskimo trying to figure out how a phonograph works. Despite the historical significance of the film, there has been criticism that Flaherty staged some of Nanook's scenes for the camera. I suppose in that way, the film was also influential.

But no matter how you slice it, Nanook building his igloo is always going to be cool (No pun intended).

Louisiana Story
Flaherty's Louisiana Story is almost Nanook in reverse. It is a fictionalized story set in the swamps of Louisiana featuring a boy, his pet raccoon and the oil drillers drilling in the swamps near their home.. But it has more of the look of a documentary and also shows Flaherty's silent film roots by having long patches of the film without any use of dialogue. The film's main antagonist isn't the oil drillers, but an alligator who is trying to get his teeth around the boy's beloved raccoon! I'm not totally sure what to make of Louisiana Story, but I do think it is interesting to look at the life of the boy and his grandfather versus the oncoming oil rig that represents progress.


  1. Louisiana Story is, from what I can tell, about how Cajun spit is magical.

  2. With both movies Flaherty wants to tell a story that is not necessarily the true story, but one of convenience. In Nanook he just wants a lot of cool pictures showing the Inuit that the public would expect to see. I am reminded of the Gary Larsson cartoon where all the natives run around in a panic: "quick quick, hide the fridges and the tv's, the anthropologists are coming!". In Louisianna story he wants to show all the wonder and progress oil drilling brings to a backward neighbourhood. The bayoux and oil in harmony...hmmm... a few years before Deepwater Horizon. I wonder if that is really documentary, At least the first one is fun. The second is just boring.

  3. One thing I kind of like about Louisiana Story is the sheer oddness of it. Such large sections with no dialogue and the oncoming oil drillers not really posing any kind of environmental threat. I certainly wouldn't argue against it being a bit on the dull side.

  4. As a lecturer, I have shown Nanook of the North to my students in one of my upper year anthropology classes. Many aspects of it were indeed staged by Flaherty to look "traditional", though it's my opinion that this is of minor importance to the value of the film.

    Despite the inaccuracies, the performances of the Inuit actors remain valid - as they were part of the re-creation of their own story, and ultimately played key roles in the images that were captured.

    Flaherty may have given them direction, but they lent much to the film's aesthetic qualities that were undoubtedly important to the film's success and lasting importance, historically and otherwise.