Here’s some more movie reviews – a new way to experience silent films and a strange way to tell a love story.
Nanook of the North (with live musical accompaniment featuring Inuit throat singing)
Nanook of the North is considered in the film industry the movie that created the documentary genre. The inspiration for making the movie came when the director, Robert J. Flaherty, was on an expedition in the Hudson Bay area. The director was there to prospect the land for development. While there he encountered the Inuit. Over the years, he became fascinated by them and their culture. Realizing that the Inuit way of life was at risk of dying out (with the approach of industrial development to that area), Flaherty decided to document the Inuit way of life.
Flaherty encountered some issues with making the documentary as some Inuit traditions were already dying out, such as the walrus hunt. The solution to this was to cast Inuits who were paid to portray a family. The main character (of course!) is Nanook and the movie tells the “age-old story of man versus the fearsome power of nature.” (See Film Festival description at the link above) In the documentary, we see a family travelling by a kayak (built for one!), the building of an igloo, kayaking through ice floes, ice fishing (real ice fishing! no cabin), Nanook biting a phonograph (hey, there’s a person inside that little box!), a tug-of-war with a seal (which was already dead), and a little boy learning how to shoot with a bow and arrow. This is definitely a way of life that isn’t common anymore. While watching the movie, I have to wonder to myself, “Could I live that way?”
Nanook of the North is a silent movie made in 1922 and it was selected for the Film Festival this year as the silent film presentation accompanied by live music. The movie itself is fascinating for its historical depictions of Inuit life, but the experience of the film was greatly enhanced by the live music. The Inuit throat singers were superb in their performance, capturing the essence of what was portrayed in the various segments of the movie. The score for the movie was composed by Gabriel Thibaudeau and was performed by a nine-piece ensemble. The ensemble consisted, along with the throat singers, clarinet and flute players, which happen to be my two favourite wood-wind instruments. (I played clarinet for five years in high school and flute for a year, the flute being my minor instrument.) I’ve always loved the airy, ethereal sound of the flute and the clarinet. Having had some experience with the clarinet and the flute, I have to say that the performance was excellent.
This is the first time I have gone to see live accompaniment with a movie at the Film Festival and I have to say it is worth experiencing, especially since the tickets for the movie and live performance are the same price as the regular tickets at the Film Festival. Hopefully, next year’s silent film selection will be as interesting as this year’s.
Drawing Restraint 9
Drawing Restraint 9 is the ninth installment of Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint project, a project he’s worked on since 1987. The project is based on the idea that resistance builds muscle tissue making muscles bigger and stronger through hypertrophy. Barney has applied this simple idea from physiology to the realm of creative expression. Simply put, would applying resistance to methods of creative expression produce better (bigger and stronger) art? In Drawing Restraint 1 and 2, Barney ran up an incline strapped to an elastic band, all the while attempting to draw. In the movie, Drawing Restraint 9, Barney has elaborated further on his idea using a variety of “restraints”, such as a mold containing liquid vaseline and the ceremonial process he has to go through in anticipation of waiting to be with his one love (portrayed by his wife and music artist, Bjork).
The movie is described on the Drawing Restraint site as “an abstract fairy tale carried by striking visuals and music (much like opera), which draws its inspiration from Japanese cultural tradition, the history of petroleum-based energy, and the evolution of the whale.” Ultimately, the movie is a love story which culminates in a major transformation of the two main characters (Barney and Bjork). Considering this all takes place on a whaling ship, one should be able to guess what transformation takes place.
There is a little dialogue in this 2 hour-15 minute movie (the only dialogue occurs during the tea ceremony, which was for me one of the more interesting parts of the movie – the other being the traditional Shinto grooming and dressing up in traditional Shinto wedding attire) which makes it a treat for the audience to have Bjork compose the soundtrack for the film. However the soundtrack matched the long and drawn out scenes of the movie so well that it didn’t make watching the movie any less of an endurance test of trying to stay awake. At the point where my eyes were starting to close, it dawned on me that maybe this was another “restraint” being used in the movie – the audience restraining itself from falling asleep because the movie is extremely long and drawn out (somehow this made it a little easier to stay awake). This is perhaps my biggest displeasure with the movie. A story was told and an idea was presented in 2 hours and 15 minutes that could have been told and presented in much less time. It probably might have been less time consuming to get the soundtrack and listen to that instead. If you’re a Bjork fan, the soundtrack is probably more enjoyable than the whole movie.
Realizing that the idea for this movie came out of the idea of “restraining oneself”, the idea behind the Drawing Restraint project seems to have taken backseat to the love story. I left the theatre not quite sure what the movie had to do with “Drawing Restraint”.
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