There’s something about Nanook… A century after it was first released, you might not expect a film with such a complex history to be, as Jay Weissberg said, one of the most anticipated events of the festival. But it certainly was. A quick straw poll of Pordenone attendees confirmed that yes, most of us had first seen Nanook of the North in a film studies classroom or lecture hall, and that we had been told both that it was a box-office sensation, and that it was partly a dupe. But this centenarian film is more than just a notch on the documentary cinema timeline, and it has a beguiling beauty and humanity that commands respect.
If you are not too familiar with the film, which is a hybrid documentary about Inuit hunter Nanook and his family getting through the winter then Francesco Rufini’s note will be essential reading. For those who do know it, let me explain why the hall was so full. The film was screened tonight with Gabriel Thibaudeau’s spine-tingling score, featuring Inuit throat singers Lydia Etok and Nina Segalowitz, vocal soloists Alberto Spadotto and Anna Viola, the Orchestra San Marco and Frank Bockius on percussion. As Rufini writes, “The centennial of Nanook of the North calls us to acknowledge the Inuit agency behind its making and regard the film as the result of a collective effort, at the roots of a collaborative approach to documentary filmmaking.” So this score, multivocal, multifaceted, putting Inuit heritage at the forefront, is just one of the ways that a screening of a work such as Nanook can honour the film and acknowledge its compromises all at once.
I could crack out a cliché from under the ice and say you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium tonight. That would not be true. Have you ever heard an entire theatre coo in unison at a husky puppy? I have. Several times, tonight. This really is a very warm (yes, I know) and charming film.
As much as I yearned to see Norma Talmadge once again, this morning I had a date with a deadline, so my first appointment of the day was to board the charabanc to Ruritania once again.
And for all good tourists the first destination in this faraway kingdom must be Edwin S. Porter’s 1913 The Prisoner of Zenda – an early Ruritanian feature, adapted from one of the most popular Ruritanian novels, dating back to 1894. The print we saw may well have had all the correct scenes and intertitles but my fuzzy brain was not sure they were always in the right place. Still I thought it was beautiful, especially the wonderfully composed scenes of pomp and pageantry framed by windows. Plenty of action too, with a doppelgänger substitution plot, a fiendish ambassador trying to thwart true love and lots of breaking and entering and exiting of dungeons and castles. Vastly enjoyable, even if sometimes I struggled to follow, but then I was partly distracted by the very, very shiny boots. Between the Norma Talmadge films and the Ruritania films, costume is especially decadent this year.
A warning to travellers to this realm: don’t drink the wine. Simply because in this land of nefarious machination it may have been spiked. And we have no need of mind-altering substances. We have Segundo de Chomón. A package of his Iberico Films shorts from 1912, from a collection of international archives, was put together in 2021 to celebrate 150 years since his birth. There was real beauty and wonder in this collection. My favourites included a beautiful stencil-tinted travelogue (one of many here) or the lush waterfalls of Piedra, an eccentric haunted house film La Maison des revenants, and the elegantly ornate trick film L’Iris Fantastique. All of which were accompanied with uncanny synchronicity and astonishing variety by the formidable duo of Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius,
Not forgetting of course, as trailed in these very pages, the grotesque splendour of Escamillo à le vers Solitaire, AKA The Tapeworm. Like the chestburster scene from Alien (1979), as reimagined by Davids Lynch and Cronenberg, this tale of one man driven to distraction, and eaten (literally) out of house and home by his stomach parasite, is inventive, witty, wild and unforgettable. The strangely film-like worm leaps out of his victim’s mouth to grab food from the air, from the street, and retreats back inside the stomach to open tins, pick meat off bones, and tidy away pesky parasite-shrinking tablets. It romps through a loaf of bread in seconds and coils on the tablecloth ready to pounce again. It has a life of its own, and an appetite for destruction. Long live the new flesh.
Intertitle of the Day
“Heaven does not always make the right man king.” Presented without comment, from The Prisoner of Zenda.
- A question to ponder. Destructive, desire-led, and oddly endearing – is the tapeworm one of Cinema’s First Nasty Women? And if so, can we find a T-shirt in their size?
- Medicinal tip of the day. Over-indulged in lard? Chase it with (Italian) castor oil. Call it the Nanook cure,
- Read all my Pordenone posts in one place.
- You can read more about the festival, and all of the films, on the Giornate website.
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