Film History part III
written by J.A.Bohr
continued from Page One
Visually, Nanook of the North does have wonderfully long shots of the Arctic tundra, and the building of the igloo seems so straight forward that anyone could do it. Flaherty does little editing to show his point of view (making him a "shooter" and not an "editor" according to Grierson), which differs from normal fictional fims which use edits to lead the audience to a desired conclusion. From watching Nanook hunt and fish, though, we are led to believe that he is quite successful, never experiencing a shortage of food because "screen-time" never displays this. Yet, many intertitles mention that they are near starvation. The audience never experiences this desperate atmosphere and mood from the seemingly endless smiles the "family" shows us. Too many important aspects of Eskimo life are completely ignored (or left on the cutting room floor), therefore lost to future societies. Questions like, do the families travel in hunting-fishing circles like the Ojibwa (which they may have traded with before the Capitalists created "Trading Posts" run by white men all along the rivers of Canada at this time), returning each year to the same places, or are they nomadic, traveling randomly from hunting ground to hunting ground (the footage of trapping would lend to the Ojibwa, who were also trappers in nothern woods of Canada)? Or what ceremonies do these people hold sacred, or do they even have ceremonies? Or do they live in loose communities or as separate families? Or do they have a leader? The important social questions a civilized society might need to understand are simply ignored to show us the imaginary "illusion of native life" hidden and glorified within Flaherty's earily amused mind.
It would appear that Flaherty was not as factually orientated as he wanted the world to believe. In researching his second documentary, Moana, he was so unimpressed with the visual aspects of the present easy-going Samoan lifestyle he found that he recreated an old and painful ceremony of body tattooing to make a statement about the natives that may not have been culturally accurate. But not every filmmaker who would explore the concept of documentaries through long shots of a recreated world he wanted the world to believe in. Some filmmakers, like Walther Ruttmann, would edit many scenes into a selective flow of images to show us this inner view of reality he saw.
Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (1927)
The theme behind Berlin is not the chronological observations of a single human character or family, but instead an abstract view of the day (or 18 hours to be more accurate) in the life of a city. Portrayed through thousands of shots and scenes edited tightly in an Abstract and Associational nonnarrative style, Ruttmann's Berlin is considered an Avant-Garde Documentary building its foundations out of the form and rhythm of images and sound. "The power of Berlin lies in its candid photography and its rhythmic cutting. To guarantee the authenticity of revealing the city at work and play (Karl) Freund, (the camera man), hid the camera in a truck and drove about the city shooting the movements that caught his eye."13 But it is Ruttmann who edits these rolls of chaos into an overwhelming vision of the Weimar Republic's Berlin in 1927.
Unlike Flaherty, who came into filmmaking from being a Canadian explorer, "Walther Ruttmann came out of architecture and painting to avant-garde filmmaking in the early 1920s - specifically, in his case, to abstract, geometric forms in motion".14 Ruttmann called his cinematic works as "painting with time."15 This perfectly describes Ruttmann's early films, titled Lichtspiel Opus I-IV, which are abstract experiments with geometric form in rhythmic response to sound. "After his groundbreaking film LIGHT-PLAY OPUS I (LICHTSPIEL OPUS I) received widespread acclaim, he went on to produce OPUS II-IV. He provided special effects and backgrounds on Lotte Reiniger's feature film THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE AHMED, but moved away from abstractionism after that and focused on producing and editing more documentary-life films."16 It is through these early experiences that Ruttmann hones his editing talent which makes Berlin so strikingly different than Nanook. It is a high-speed montage of a day in the life of Weimar culture of Berlin.
continued on Page Three