a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Best Films of the Year 2018 Continued – Tagaq / Nanook of the North

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In my rush to send out my best films of 2018, I neglected to write about my best film experience of 2018. It had nothing to do with any recently released film. It was a presentation/performance of Robert Flaherty’s 1922 documentary, Nanook of the North, with a live music by Tanya Tagaq and band, percussionist Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot. For those who don’t know, Tagaq is an Inuk throat-singer, who’s pushed her working of a very traditional art to something beyond. She’s collaborated with the likes of the Kronos String Quartet, Bjork and Buffy Sainte-Marie – among many others. I had the happy experience of seeing her perform over 20 years ago, early on in her career when she jammed with Kinny Starr in a venue in North Vancouver. I’ve been enamored of her and her work ever since.

At South Sound Community College on February 1, 2018 she came with her collaborators, to perform her “soundtrack” to Nanook of the North.  I use quotation marks around soundtrack because it was so much more than a soundtrack. It was an accompaniment, for sure, but it was also a a critique, a dialog and a discussion, a howl of invective and anger, a coming to terms with the past and a deep dive into pain, the fissures and the fractured legacy and history of the Inuit/Inuk world.

I’ve used words that utterly fail to communicate the depth of her performance. She sang the landscape. She sang terror and transcendence. With her body and her voice she made the contradictions of Flaherty’s  masterpiece clear and created a path through them, not with a critic’s pen,  but with a inarguable voice that spoke directly of the point of view of her life, her culture’s dark, broken legacy and its resilience.

I have seen many contemporary soundtrack performances for silent and less-than-silent masterpieces. I’ve seen Tim Brock conduct his score of Dr. Mabuse to a 6,000 seat house in Paris. I’ve seen Metal Men do create a joyfully noisy industrial  soundtrack to Tetsuo for house of about 30 people.

I’ve never seen/heard such and emotionally stunning, intellectually engaging piece of music ever composed for a silent movie than Tagaq’s Nanook of the Norh.

Sorry Prokofiev. Sorry Tim. Sorry John and Eric.

Listen to Tanya.

She’s created the movie score/soundtrack with such resonance, emotion, and a measure of integrity and honesty that all composers and performers will have dig extra deep just to try to reach a modicum of what she’s done with her music for Nanook of the North.

 To read about the background of Nanook of the North and the 20th century tragedy that befell the Inuit people – that still has deep resonances and continues today – I recommend reading Melanie McGrath’s The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

January 15, 2019 at 6:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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