Monday, January 11, 2010

1934 - MAN OF ARAN, Flaherty's classic if suspect documentary

An acknowledged film classic, whatever that is.  Robert Flaherty lived and shot a lot of film for 2 1/2 years on the Aran Islands.  Considered a documentary at the time, the film was about people surviving in a very harsh north sea island environment off the coast of England.

As reviewers and film scholars looked into the film, it was apparent that Flaherty had recreated many of the scenes in the film.  The shark hunting sequence on the Atlantic Ocean had been completely staged. The growing food with seaweed scenes were apparently something that the islanders had abandoned years ago.  Even the family was phony, the husband, wife and son were not even related, they had been hand picked by Flaherty to play a "typical" Aran family unit.


What wasn't faked was the amount of danger Flaherty put the Aran islanders through while filming.  The scenes at sea are still amazing to watch and seeing people out rowing in boats with a hull that looks like it was made out of paper mache is an unnerving sight.

Flaherty's film making technique was to shoot lots of film and then watch it over and over looking for a story to emerge.  Slowly he would eliminate film footage as the basic story revealed itself to him during the editing process.  Unsurprisingly, the editor John Goldman got an additional credit on the film as a story consultant.   Goldman's editing used a lot of the techniques that Eisenstein and the Russians had pioneered with fast moving montages. 

The film had a lot of inaccuracies but Flaherty had a deeper purpose in mind.  Robert Flaherty was  a romantic.  He distrusted modern civilization and found it a corrupting influence on the human race.  Flaherty liked a more simpler, world where people lived and tested themselves against nature.  If he couldn't find sequences in his films to fit into his theme while filming, he ended up faking them.

Man of Aran is pretty spectacular to watch,  with amazing photography, incredible scenery and very exciting sequences, definitely on the required viewing list.

 76 minutes.

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