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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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7. The many Nanooks of the North


There is no such thing as the one original Nanook of the North! There are at least four different versions of Nanook with different prefaces and different film music from the English-speaking world alone. In addition to these differences within the film or on the borderline between internal and external, we also have to consider the changes in the film’s exhibition during its transition from silent to sound and back to silent film again. Not only could the film be screened as part of a larger program featuring both live and recorded items, as part of a double feature, and as a single film, it could also be shown at different exhibition venues: theaters in different locations and of different sizes, schools and libraries after the Second World War, and at home on video or DVD after the film’s restoration. In addition to these differences, the materials surrounding the 1922 and the 1947 edition of the film have changed, too. If shown the different ver- sions of the film, there is no doubt that the same audience would have different experiences. Even the relatively small changes between the re- stored editions with different forewords and scores would probably result in different readings of important scenes like the gramophone scene, the igloo-building scene or the scene entitled “Winter”. Even today, the audience can choose to watch the restored film on dif- ferent platforms: on television, online, and of course on DVD and Blu-ray. Depending on what platform we choose, not only...

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