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March 1996, Week 4


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mark Langer <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 25 Mar 1996 16:20:47 EST
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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> Evan Cameron ([log in to unmask]) disputes the claim that Flaherty had
extensive professional experience as a photographer and filmmaker before
embarking on NANOOK OF THE NORTH and claims that production of the film
began in 1913, not 1920.  He cites as partial proof of Flaherty's
inexperience the difficulties of processing film.  I don't really see how
a lack of prior knowledge about how to filter caribou hair out of water
determines Flaherty's experience as a cinematographer.  I respectfully
suggest that James Wong Howe, Stanley Cortez or even Gregg Toland would
have come up short in this regard.
As far as Cameron's allegation that the filming of NANOOK began in 1913, he
appear to be jumbling together two different film productions -- the one
shot in Baffin Island and the one shot at Port Harrison.
I'm not sure that I understand how a film project shot in an entirely
 different area of the north, using a completely different cast, which was
 edited and exhibited in major Canadian cities as a complete film could be
 considered to be the same movie as the later NANOOK.  The so-called "first
 Nanook" was made to promote Sir Wm. Mackenzie's mining and railroad empire.
 Mackenzie claimed ownership of the film, which had as much to do with
 the fact that Flaherty could not use it commercially after he left
 Mackenzie's employ as the somewhat disputed "fact" that the negative was
 destroyed in a fire.
 The later 1920 venture was sponsored by Revillon Freres to compete with the
 earlier Hudsons Bay Company pageant films and ADVENTURES IN THE FAR FUR
 COUNTRY.  How could this be coherent as a single project with the earlier
 film?  Flaherty's late teens correspondence with his wife Frances deals at
 length with their plans to make the next Eskimo film different than the
 first, adapting strategies used by Curtis and Mawson, among others.  In
 Flaherty's mind, these were distinct ventures.  To my knowledge, they
 projects share not a frame of common material.  From an extreme auteurist
 standpoint, it might be possible to conceive of a director's entire body of
 work to be just one film, released in ninety-minute chunks over a period of
 years.  But, speaking other than in this sense, does Cameron have some
evidence of which I am not aware that these were one coherent project?
My earlier statement stands.  Flaherty had extensive experience as a still
photographer and as a cinematographer by the time he proposed making
NANOOK to Revillon Freres in 1920.  He not only received instruction in
filmmaking at Kodak, but had met with representatives of Kinemacolour,
Paramount and several other companies long before embarking on the
Revillon project.  He also received advice from Edward Curtis and Alfred
Stieglitz.  He knew the film business reasonably well, and was able to
negotiate an advantageous contract with Revillon.  I would be happy to provide
Evan Cameron with citations of specific documents in the Flaherty papers that
demonstrate this.  I would call upon him to provide similar primary
documentation to contest anything that I state here.
Mark Langer
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