Nanook of the North (1922)

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Released 19-Nov-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary None
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1922
Running Time 78:05
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Robert J. Flaherty
Studio
Distributor
Gryphon Entertainment Starring Allakariallak
Nyla
Cunayou
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $14.95 Music Rudolf Schramm
Stanley Silverman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Titling Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Robert J. Flaherty lived amid the Canadian Inuit Eskimos as a prospector and explorer. He was also a keen cinematographer and had been shooting footage of them on an informal basis before deciding to make a “non-fiction” film of their lives: the term “documentary” was not then in use, short films on real life subjects having been called “Actualities”.

     Nanook of the North, subtitled A Story of Life and Love in the Actual Arctic, follows the daily lives of the Inuit Eskimo Nanook (Allakariallak), his two wives (Nyla and Cunayou) and children in the frozen Hudson Bay area of northern Canada. In this inhospitable environment the Eskimos are totally reliant upon hunting and fishing for their survival as nothing grows in this wilderness except moss. We follow Nanook and his family at rest, travelling across the wastelands, fishing and hunting for walrus and seal. Amazing sequences include a walrus hunt and the building of an igloo, including an ice window. I was also amazed at just how many people could emerge from a seemingly almost empty kayak! Their life was a fight for survival in a hostile and unforgiving landscape (in fact Allakariallak died within a couple of years of the filming, starving to death after being lost in a storm) and the film is a slice of primitive life in a world as alien to us today as it was to the audiences of 1922.

     However, Flaherty was not making an anthropological record but an entertainment and thus he blended narrative and contrivance into the footage of life in the Arctic. For example, Nanook and his family members were not really a family at all, they were hired to play those roles, and some of the most tense and thrilling sequences of Nanook of the North, such as the walrus hunt, were staged for the camera. Not that that matters too much; it is all real enough except for the seal “tug-o-war” which does look very staged. In reality, Flaherty was filming an Eskimo way of life that was already passing and he had carefully to exclude from the film the western clothes, rifles and outboard motors that were already intruding into Inuit life.

     But none of this can lessen Flaherty’s achievement. Filming with primitive cameras in a frozen and hostile environment, he captured a way of life, already passing, with humour, tension and a wide range of beautiful images of a fur clad hunter silhouetted against the ice and snow. It was an extraordinary achievement in difficult conditions and the wonder is that the film is so entertaining, exciting and moving. Nanook of the North fully deserves its high reputation and now, thanks to Gryphon Entertainment, we have the opportunity to witness this truly remarkable film.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Nanook of the North is presented in 1.33:1, its original ratio, and is not 16x9 enhanced. What do you expect a black and white film, shot with a primitive camera on location in a hostile, frozen environment almost 90 years ago to look like? It has grain, dirt marks, scratches, camera and titles shudder and variable brightness. And imagine the difficulty of achieving good contrast where the frozen white snow and ice dominate the human figures. Blacks are also less than solid, as you would expect. But this film cannot be judged by usual standards and, in fact, none of the above is in any way distracting; in fact if it looked pristine I suspect that I would feel cheated and doubt its authenticity as these “blemishes” only add to the appeal. The bottom line? It looks very good and the scores have been adjusted accordingly.

     This is a silent film and incorporates title cards in English. Some are quite lyrical, for example “snow smoking fields of sea and plain – the brass ball of sun a mockery in the sky”. Absolutely.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     This was originally a silent film which now has a score added. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 Kbps and is surround encoded. The score is mostly piano and strings, generally subdued and adding a nice ambience to the film. The sub was not used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     Nothing.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 0 US Criterion release has similar video (but is NTSC) and audio and adds two extras: Flaherty and Film and a Photo Gallery. There is not the usual NTSC / PAL speed up here, as the film speed has been adjusted, in both versions, to 21.5 frames per second.

Summary

     A real rarity Nanook of the North, released in 1922, features original footage of the lives of Canadian Inuit Eskimos skilfully blended into a narrative structure by filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty. Filming with primitive cameras in a frozen and hostile environment, Flaherty captured the Eskimo way of life with humour, tension and a wide range of beautiful images. The film is regarded as the first significant non-fiction feature ever made. Now, thanks to Gryphon, we have the opportunity to witness this truly extraordinary achievement. The video is excellent for a film that is almost 90 years old, the added score is fine. There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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