Study of the perception of Nanook of the North – In the past and present

Studying Nanook of the North while being aware of typical characteristics of the expository mode reveals such issues like the idea of realism and obvious product placement, many traits like re-enactments and manipulating representation weren’t techniques that were heavily used by film makers; meaning that the public in the 1920’s wasn’t fully aware of such practices while watching Nanook. The concept of Documentary’s was new in the 1920’s, having the new film format meant Flaherty could manipulate things like stereotypes and mythology as he could “play” on these rumours, and strengthen the stereotype of Eskimos. Such examples of Flaherty “diluting” the truth can be seen in the film, as the hunters are attempting to drag the walrus onto the beach, Flaherty is heckled by the hunters to get a rifle. It was a choice that Flaherty made to not use the rifle, either by forcing the hunters to drag it in by hand or just not to use the footage shot, missing out the parts where the hunters kill it by rifle instead of hand tools. This example shows how Flaherty changes the idea of realism, as Eskimo’s at that time were using rifles however it was the film-makers choice to portray them as the natural stereotype perceives them.

This documentary would be the one of only sources of information about the culture of Eskimo’s apart from literature, and unless people knew about the Eskimo culture on a first hand basis, then Flaherty wouldn’t of been caught out diverting the real truth about Eskimo’s, as the public didn’t have that knowledge to say otherwise. Flaherty also stages a scene where he asks Nanook to bite a record disc conveying to the audience that Eskimo’s were that clueless about first world technology at that time, shifting the real portrayal of Eskimo’s. This in current standards would be seen as not only immoral, but would change the films genre classification as the stereotype of documentaries now wouldn’t contain staged scenes that change the perception of the subject matter as it is essentially lying about an vague, un-researched topic. Whether the decision for the scene was to intentionally change the image of Eskimos in a negative way or just a creative decision to add humour to the film was in the end Flaherty’s personal choice. This shows how the concept of realism is subjective, and the so called “factual films” of that time could be altered however the film maker decided to, and also how the film maker’s choices can be affected by bias or cultural standards or stereotypes.

This compared with how the modern audience would view the documentary would show that many people would probably realise that Eskimo’s weren’t that outdated or blind from the modern world. With knowledge of previously unknown cultures coming from many sources (the internet being a large one) most of the public can be slightly knowledgeable about anything, meaning a film maker creating a documentary can’t easily dilute realism, and still portray there subject matter in a way that isn’t truthful. This can defy the stereotype of documentaries itself, as most people stereotype documentaries as factual films about a certain subject, representing that subject in an unbiased way. This however isn’t the case in many documentaries, as bias can always affects the choices a film maker makes when it comes to representation, an example I can use for myself would be the representation of a genre I would consider myself to fit into. I might alter the real portrayal of my category if that portrayal was seen to the public in a negative way. This is one way I can see myself being biased when it comes to creating documentaries, only if the film were to affect me personally.

Alex Lee

 

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