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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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5. From the Silent Film to the Sound Version


There are almost no newspaper articles or programs in the archive that reveal how screenings of Nanook took place during the 1930s, the period when sound film became established. According to Ruby, “[n]either Fla- herty nor Nanook occupies much space in the serious literature about the film industry written in the 1920s and early 1930s” (Ruby 1983, 46). During the 1940s Nanook was screened at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. According to a movie talk by Archer Winston in the New York Post of January 5, 1946 entitled “Nanook of the North, old, but still going strong”, Nanook was screened along with a 1922 Soviet newsreel at MoMA. But even though Nanook was “[b]uried in vaults and film libraries” (Weiler 1947) for a long period, Flaherty was probably not forgotten com- pletely during these years, at least not by some of the public. In addition to keeping a copy of Nanook safe and available for screenings at MoMA, Flaherty had already started a correspondence with individuals in contact with Révillon Frères to discuss the legal situation and a possible re-release of the film. The sound version of Nanook was released in 1947,77 but was withdrawn from the market when the restored version of the film became available at the end of the 1970s and is therefore no longer available for the public today: A sound version which was issued in 1948 and contains non-Flaherty footage and an added voice-over was distributed by McGraw-Hill,...

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