Monday, April 26, 2010

1926 - MOANA, Flaherty's study of Savaii Island in Samoa is boring but it wasn't his fault

Robert Flaherty had a big success with his film Nanook of the North.  Paramount wanted to repeat that success and hired Flaherty to film another docudrama in the Pacific south seas.  Paramount was looking for another Nanook of the North only this time on a tropical island.  Flaherty traveled to Savaii Island in Samoa and was pretty much screwed as soon as he arrived.

Instead of finding an island culture untouched by western civilization.  Flaherty found that Christian missionaries had already established themselves on Savaii Island and had changed a lot of the island's customs and traditions.  To start with the missionaries had gotten the islanders to start wearing clothes and abandon their traditional dress or lack of dress as it were.  Flaherty further came to realize that the Savaii islanders actually got along with each other pretty well and there was not much in the way of dramatic conflict to photograph.  

Forced to reconsider his approach, Flaherty paid the Savaii Islanders to reenact the customs and traditions that were quickly vanishing.  Flaherty filmed scenes of people fishing, picking coconuts out of palm trees, catching crabs and making clothes out of tree bark. Interesting but kind of dull stuff.

Flaherty also needed an action climax like the snowstorm in Nanook, but lacking this he instead choose a ritual tattooing of a young male to be his exciting ending.  However this was not exactly thrilling either. Watching the tattooing being done to the boy is also pretty boring,  however it does look like it really really hurts. 

Moana is kind of a disappointment, it has some spectacular photography and some very pretty scenery but the lack of  action makes it pretty slow going even at 65 minutes.  Paramount was extremely disappointed with the film and made Flaherty reedit it into something shorter.

Moana is almost a warmup for Man of Aran.  The shots of the ocean crashing into the island and Flaherty's insistence on having people actually canoeing around in dangerous ocean waves are repeated in Man of Aran.   Flaherty's focus on a typical island family is an approach he repeated as well in Man of Aran.

An interesting film, unfortunately pretty dull.

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