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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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4. Nanook’s Journey Across the Country


Roxy’s manner of presenting films as part of a larger program was not spe- cific to the New York Capitol, but was fairly common for so-called deluxe first-run theaters. Nevertheless, Roxy can be seen as a pioneer in this regard, disseminating his ideas in articles such as “The Prologue As a Basis For At- mosphere, Relaxation and Entertainment” in the Exhibitors Trade Review of April 26, 1924.54 As the article’s title suggests, Roxy is mainly concerned with films with an unusual atmosphere that can be supported by a prologue. However, a program surrounding the film can also benefit films without this “outstanding atmosphere”: “An orchestral or a dance interlude, followed by one of the excellent short subjects which are now available can be made to round out a splendid program.” Rothafel continues by claiming that audi- ences “expect the program which is offered them to be carefully thought out in every particular – not haphazardly thrown together in whatevery [sic] way circumstance will permit” (Rothafel 1924, 17). Roxy’s ideas would – according to Melnick – “be duplicated throughout the industry” (Melnick 2003, 68). Drawing on 1920s newspaper articles such as Golda Goldman’s “Story of Samuel L. Rothafel and His Career”55 or Harold Franklin’s “How Exhibitors Can Become a ‘Producer’ ”,56 Mel- nick argues that this practice was not restricted to the large picture palaces of the American cities: The adoption of these mixtures of live and filmed performances was not limited only to large, urban theaters. The interpolation of live and recorded...

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