Moana Film Details
Overview: Filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty presents a docufictional account of a family living in a Samoan village in the early 1920s.
Review: With the recent surge for anything ‘South Pacific’ thanks to the 2016’s Disney animation film ‘Moana’, I thought it was a great time to look back to one of the films that probably help influence it: the original ‘Moana’ from 1926. Originally, directed by Robert J. Flaherty of 1922’s ‘Nanook of the North’ fame & produce by Paramount Pictures studio head, Jesse L. Lasky, the purpose of the film was to capture the same magic, he had making ‘Nanook’ in the Artic with the Inuit People, but except this time in the Oceania with the Polynesians People. They hope that audiences would be just as intrigued with the rich culture of the South Sea, as much as they were with the people of the Far North. However, it wasn’t the case. Greeted with indifference during its initial theatrical run, the silent feature was rescued from obscurity by the director’s daughter, who decided to record her own soundtrack for the silent movie in 1976 & also returning to the tropic islands to add additional voices & atmospherics. For the most part ‘Moana with Sound’ kinda work. The result is impressive, working through age and softness, bringing out detail on island life and the participants, displaying surprising clarity for a nearly 100-year-old film. Contrast is generally secure, while delineation doesn’t solidify. Damage is still present on the source, but it’s gracefully dialed down, leaving some mild scratching and speckling. While, ‘Moana with Sound’ doesn’t represent the initial artistic intent. It did rescue the film from the depths of disintegration & expands on what was already a very fascinating feature. A documentary film rich in cultural history and importance that it was restored yet again, a few years later and put into the National Archives in Washington DC. For the most part, all three versions of the original film are pretty fine, entertaining films. I found Robert J. Flaherty did a good job for what he could had done at the time. He did put a lot of work, with the project, even choosing to live with his wife and their three daughters in British Samoa with the Savai’I tribe for more than a year, with Flaherty arrived in Samoa in April 1923 and stayed until December 1924, with the film being completed in December 1925. He did this all, by developed his film as he went along, in a cave on Savai’i. In the process, he inadvertently poisoned himself and required treatment after he drank water from the cave that contained silver nitrate, which washed off the film stock. The silver nitrate also caused spots to form on the negative, but thank god, it didn’t destroy all the beautiful footage, he shot. Although the film was visually stunning, however, like his previous movie, he went well beyond the recording the life of the people of Samoa as it happened. He staged them, leading to some controversy if this movie is even a documentary, even if writer John Grierson first coined the term with this film. In ‘Moana’, there were many cases of Flaherty interfering & concoct with the people that being portray in order to make a more traditional tribal style movie. A good example of that is the way, the Savai’l tribe dress. At the time of filming, most Samoans, by this time were typically wearing modern Western-style clothing under the influence of Christian missionaries and spoke English. However, in order to produce a fictional account of ancient Polynesian life; he persuaded the tribe to don outdated traditional tapa cloth costumes for the film, as well, as have the women all go topless, while also, using potentially photogenic performers to use more body language. Not only that, but Flaherty also ask them to perform a coming-into-manhood ritual in which the young male lead underwent a painful traditional Samoan tattoo, a practice that had already become obsolete by the time, that they were filming. Those devices have led to Flaherty’s films sometimes being categorized as “docufiction”. For the most part, these manufacturing of mythology really didn’t bug me, as it did help inform and educated the public of what the culture used to be. However, I didn’t like how Flaherty needed to create fictitious family relationship in this ethnofiction movie in order to create drama. I get that, he was concerned that there was no inherent ‘man vs nature’ conflict that he used in ‘Nanook’ & 1934’s documentary ‘Man of Aran’ in the islanders’ way of life, to draw people in, but seeing the day to day basic of the culture should be captivatingly enough. The idea of staging a love story in paradise, between Moana (Ta’avale) & Moana’s unnamed fictional fiancé (Fa’amgase), felt a little forced. It kills what the basics of the pure form of documentary, this little has left. Overall: While the film should be shown in Anthropology classes around the world due to its easy accessible and how it conveys lifestyle and ideas of a different culture. I just believe that dramatic should be limited in educational documentary like this. In the end, while “Moana” succeeds in some parts, it could do better in others. Still, it’s a documentary worth checking out, regardless.
Duration: 85 min
Also known as: Moana,L’ultimo eden,Moana with Sound,Moana, solens søn,Moana: A Story of the South Seas,Moana, o Homem Perfeito,モアナ 南海の歓喜,O Homem Perfeito,Moana: A Romance of the Golden Age,Моана