Nanook of the North
Andy Warhol is slightly less famous for saying, “gotta bring home the bacon.”
Mallarmé insists upon the type of metaphor cultivated by Flaherty, in such a poem as “The Roadmender”, for instance. Frost, too, in “The Gum-Gatherer”.
Such amusements as the trading post and the gramophone are pleasant, but they are not to be compared with the solitary hunt or joined by companions for the game that is meat in an absolute latitude that is zero.
“I think I shall be among the English Poets,” says Keats, maybe three hundred on the island. Browning asks,
Who fished the murex up?
What porridge had John Keats?
Five-minute prologue, treetop anywhere, tilt down along increasingly exotic trunk to lush jungle floor, Samoans gathering articles, tilt up again.
The analysis suggested is carried out in the film, which concludes in a rite of manhood.
The critical perspective is divergent. “To say that this pictorial effort is informing or educational rather than dramatic is quite true, but the life on this island is pictured so captivatingly that one feels like shouting with glee that it is not just another movie” (Mordaunt Hall, New York Times). Variety pulls no punches whatsoever, “there’s no story, and a travelog is a travelog.”
Jonathan Rosenbaum was almost prepared to regard the film itself in 1975 for the Monthly Film Bulletin, but instead gave an account of how it was made, more or less. Again, Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader) is more direct, writing of “Flaherty’s sticky romanticism”.
A perfect film, and then something more.
British craftsmanship, the skill of the individual worker, a tradition found within the great mills and so forth, in fine pottery and glassware and lenses of all sizes and types and steel for building anything, superfine engines and the like.
Grierson completed the work.
The charming score and the images sometimes suggest Menzies’ Things to Come.
Man of Aran
A much more complex film, though Flaherty still lives by the point of his camera. Potato-farming where there is no soil, by breaking the rocks (Seurat), collecting the dulse and hauling up the earth where it can be found in crevices.
Fishing from the high cliffs. Harpooning the great shark. Pinter has the “cuff and tussle with the sea”, Hemingway and Sturges and Taylor have The Old Man and the Sea, arising from Flaherty’s shield of Archilochus.
It was worn out, run into the ground, dried up and blew away.
For the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flaherty represents the horrors.
Pickers replaced by machines, crops that feed the world since World War I.
Natural pasture for grazing sheep and cattle.
Plowing to catch and hold the rain, avoiding erosion, nourishing the soil.
Man’s mind governing the machines, “the spirit of the people.”
Anthony Mann’s Thunder Bay takes one tack of the story, Allen Miner’s Chubasco another, and somewhere in the midst of it is Nicholas Ray’s Wind Across the Everglades.