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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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3. “Our True Intent Is All for Your Delight” – Nanook’s Premiere at the Capitol Theatre


41 3. “Our True Intent Is All for Your Delight” – Nanook’s Premiere at the Capitol Theatre Nanook premiered at the Capitol Theatre located in the heart of New York City on 51st Street and Broadway (close to Times Square) in June 1922. The Capitol had opened in October 1919 and with its 5,300 seats was one of the biggest cinemas in the U.S., classified as a deluxe first-run movie theater. The Capitol’s size was not only significant in gaining the interest of audiences and the press, but also influenced the size of the orchestra (over 100 musicians) and the rest of its facilities. Following its opening on October 24, 1919, Edward Bowes had managed it; however, on June 4, 1920, Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel officially took over the Capitol. Bowes took on the role of managing director, while Roxy was supposed to be responsible for the films’ presentation, which made it possible to run the Capitol more profitably (cf. Melnick 2003, 75). As Ross Melnick shows in his impressive study on Roxy, motion picture exhibitors such as Roxy played an important role in the presentation and promotion of films from the silent film era (cf. also Groskopf 2012, 84). Not only were they able to decide which films were shown; they made decisions on the film music and editing,36 and they incorporated individual films into a larger program. Roxy himself explained the importance of the program to other exhibitors: Of course the picture is important, and we could not...

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