Considered by many to be the first documentary, “Nanook of the North” (1921) follows Nanook “The Bear” as he leads his family across the ice floes of Hudson Bay. As chief of his Inuit band and a fearful hunter, Nanook represents an idealized version of masculinity for all the post-war, jazz age men of leisure looking to live vicariously through his adventures.
Nanook’s war is one against the elements. He fights with harpoon and spear to tame and exploit the “mysterious barren lands.” I was struck by the use of the term “barren” because of its association with the womb. Water (the most feminine element) has turned to ice here. A place where nothing can grow. A place that, not unlike the west in westerns, must be tamed, mastered, and colonized. The story is typically post-colonial and a bit – dare I say it?- boring.
Shot to watch:
The director chooses to focus extensively on the sled team revealing his sympathy for these poor animals. In a series of linked shots – the dogs sit stoically outside Nanook’s igloo in the middle of a gale and are almost completely buried by drifts of snow. Shudder.