Nanooking It, Whale Blubber, and Mukluks

LORELAI: So you’ve been just Nanooking it this whole time, just sending out for whale blubber and mukluks? [adjusts thermostat]

Nanook of the North [pictured], a 1922 silent film documentary/docudrama written, produced, and directed by Robert J. Flaherty. The film follows the struggles of an Inuk man named Nanook, his wife Nyla, and their family as they travel, trade and search for food in the Canadian Arctic. They are shown hunting a walrus, building an igloo, and going about their everyday tasks. Nanook and his family are portrayed as fearless heroes, enduring rigours beyond the comprehension of most Westerners.

The film has been criticised for fictionalising events and presenting them as reality. For example, “Nanook” was really named Allakariallak, and Nyla (aka Alice) was not his wife, but one of Flaherty’s common-law wives. The cast were scripted to behave in a more “authentic” Inuit way, such as using traditional hunting weapons rather than guns, and acting as if they had little knowledge of Western culture. Many things had to be staged, because of the difficulties of filming with one fixed camera in a harsh environment.

Nanook of the North was ground-breaking cinema, capturing authentic details of a culture that was then little known to outsiders, and filmed in a remote location. Hailed unanimously by critics, it was also a box-office success, and is still viewed as an enthralling documentary. As the first full-length feature documentary to achieve financial success, it paved the way for the entire genre. Nanook of the North was remastered and released on DVD in 1999, so Lorelai and Rory could have actually seen it.

Whale blubber is an important part of the traditional diet of Inuit people, valued for its high energy value, nutritional content, and availability. Mukluks are soft boots, traditionally made from caribou hide or sealskin, worn by the Indigenous people of the Arctic.

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