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«Nanook of the North» From 1922 to Today

The Famous Arctic Documentary and Its Afterlife

Roswitha Skare

Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North is one of the best-known documentaries of the silent era and has remained well-known throughout the world ever since its release in 1922. This study takes as its point of departure the changes Nanook underwent from its premiere at the New York Capitol on June 11, 1922, to the sound version of 1947, the film’s restoration in the 1970s, and later editions on different platforms. Accordingly, the book focuses on the different versions and editions of the film and the significant ways in which the different elements surrounding the film influence our perception.


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2. Ready for Triumph? – Nanook’s Path to Broadway


23 2. Ready for Triumph? – Nanook’s Path to Broadway 2.1 “First I was an explorer; then I was an artist.” Several biographies and countless articles have been written about Fla- herty, his career, and above all his first and most famous film, Nanook of the North. In discussions of the early years of Flaherty’s career, much emphasis is put on Flaherty as a man with little formal education, a self- made man and an explorer. As Christopher puts it: the “image of him as the unschooled ‘natural’ clung to him” (2005, 24); an image that fits his association with the faraway and exotic. Flaherty’s statement “[f]irst I was an explorer; then I was an artist”18 has been used to characterize his work. As all of his biographers emphasize, Flaherty came from a world of geol- ogy, geography, and exploration, and had a career as an iron-ore prospec- tor. He went on four expeditions for Sir William Mackenzie in 1910–1911, 1911–1912, 1913–1914, and 1915–1916.19 According to Flaherty’s own recollections, it was Mackenzie’s idea that he should get a motion picture camera and take it to the Arctic (cf. Rotha & Ruby 1983, 22). Flaherty’s appointment as a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society (F.R.G.S.) in 1913 marked an important step in his career. He had been nominated by two Fellows of the Society on the basis of his “two journeys into Ungava for Sir William Mackenzie and [because he had] penetrated the Barren Lands of Canada...

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