Sunday, January 22, 2012

Documentary of the Arctic Resurfaces after 108 years!

Still from Trip to the Moon
A hundred years ago popular culture was much different than today's. This statement probably won't surprise anyone but I doubt that many people know what was popular 100 years ago. Looking back on what constituted popular culture forces me to think of what is considered popular culture today and how it will be viewed in the future. A hundred years ago popular culture was characterized by learning about foreign cultures and landscapes (to name but two), which are subjects found in famous pieces of literature such as Heart of Darkness and early films such as Trip to the Moon, which is a film presented within the recent wonderful film Hugo.

Early publicity image from the arctic.
In the mid to late 19th Century, film was just beginning. The beginnings of film are rooted in the public showing of photographs, which is something that has been featured in the recent AMC show Hell on Wheels with the two Irish brothers showing photos from home that are projected upon a screen. One of the more popular subjects for these screenings, and for the first silent movies, was images of the savages in exotic locales. The images that were captured during this time have been a rich resource for anthropologists and archaeologists in studying the life-ways of traditional cultures in areas such as South America, Africa, Polynesia, and the Canadian Arctic.

Illustration of the search for the Franklin Expedition.
The arctic, in particular, captured the popular imagination because of it's stark dissimilarity to the world in which Westerner's knew. This ice covered land that appeared to be uninhabitable was instead populated by thriving Inuit groups. This region was also important as a possible route for shipping as the Panama canal had yet to be built at this time. The exploits of Western explorers (think Shackelton and Franklin) became legendary and entranced Western audiences via newspaper articles, public lectures, and of course, newly created slide shows and later moving pictures.

Still from The Romance of the Far Fur Country
Recently, a documentary resurfaced from archives in England that dates to 1919! This silent film was entitled The Romance of the Far Fur Country. This is some of the earliest footage of the Canadian arctic and it seems from the BBC News story that the film is very romantic in nature, which is inline with many of the arctic documentaries of that era. The restored documentary will be shown in numerous arctic communities and hopefully will be made available online through the HBC archives, which is the company that originally financed the film. I recomend you see this film as it provides an idea of what once constituted popular culture and is also an excellent portal into how traditional cultures thrived in the Canadian arctic!

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