Film: Man Of Aran
Release date: 14th March 2011
Certificate: U
Running time: 73 mins
Director: Robert J. Flaherty
Starring: Colman 'Tiger' King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dirrane, Pat Mullin, Patch 'Red Beard' Ruadh
Genre: Documentary
Studio: Park Circus
Format: DVD
Country: Republic of Ireland

This is an English-language release.

Legendary ‘docufiction’ creator Robert J. Flaherty is brought back to life in the re-release of his heralded Man Of Aran. The 1934 film encompasses the director’s albeit disputed accredited/discredited filming philosophy in combining fiction and documentary to present a specific view of reality cohering to Flaherty’s own poetic take on life.

The main focus of the feature is a family of three, consisting of a man of Aran, his wife and their son. They live on one of three small, rocky land masses known as the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. The film follows them on their daily lives toiling amongst the harsh climatic conditions delivered by the omnipresent Atlantic. Their only means of survival seem to be based on their ability to farm on the island - with barely any soil to use - and to fish at sea for one of the biggest sharks there is in a small canoe supplied only with ropes and a harpoon.

While the wife certainly puts just as much physical effort in to daily life – gathering huge baskets of heavy seaweed and carrying it to the farm, planting potatoes, looking for rare mounds of soil under rocks – it is the man of Aran who goes to sea to do the hunting.

The last part of the film sees him head out with a handful of other fishermen with storm clouds brewing overhead. When the storm finally hits, there is a struggle for the boat to land back on shore, but after several nail-biting attempts, the man of Aran is reunited with his family…

Man Of Aran should not be mistakenly valued as a factual documentary, as it is in fact a fabricated one. Instead, it should be valued as a piece of screen art in which the director successfully portrays his visions of the world, and his most prominent theme of man versus nature. In truth, no other genre has as much persuasive influence in conveying a director’s intentions than one which involves reality, and so Flaherty cunningly manipulates the documentary to create a piece of art, something which has even led him to be proclaimed “the first American film poet.”

His efforts, however, are left unappreciated by some – mostly limited to contemporary opinion. Those expecting to see a true depiction of what life was like on the Aran Islands in the 1930s will not be able to take this film as gospel. Speaking of which, one might wonder why there is no representation of religious interest in a film about Irish life, and in fact, due to Flaherty’s personal reasons, religion is omitted as a feature. The fabrication deepens, as the family are actually all actors chosen for their photogenic nature. Even the hunting expeditions for basking sharks were a forgotten trade on the Islands by then, but Flaherty pulls the veil over the existence islanders led to invoke a sort of philosophic reality – something some inhabitants criticised at the time.

At least the film manages to engage an audience and refute a documentary’s tendency to border on the boring – especially for a documentary made so long ago. A music score is an almost constant companion to the action on screen, building tension and romanticising goings-on where necessary.

Artistic lenience in camera shots are never far away; at one point we see a shadow on a hunted basking shark of the man of Aran, harpoon in hand, claiming the huge beast as his defeated prey. Faster shots heighten suspense during the hunting scenes, and shots of the same action from different angles and distances make the pace of the film less stagnant. A DVD extra, the documentary How The Myth Was Made, reveals that Flaherty used a lot of long lens shots combined with the closer action to make the frantic waves at sea look nearer to land and more dangerous than they really were; a clever little trick that’s easily missed if not looked for.

Like his previously successful Nanook Of The North (1922), and also other not so successful works, the use of centring the subject around a small family with a young child is something of a selling point for Flaherty. Again in How The Myth Was Made, we see that Flaherty “always had an eye on the box office” (at least this explains the shot of the lamb and dog sharing a basket together in Man Of Aran). In a way this sugar-coating shows Flaherty as an optimist as well as a poet, and inevitably perhaps as viewers of his work we can learn more about Flaherty than the actual subject matter in his films.

Man Of Aran will maybe only appeal to serious film fans and lovers of the documentary – or ‘docufiction’. For what it is, a piece of film ‘poetry’, it provides a worthy study of Flaherty himself. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that whether fabricated or real; the theme of man’s fight for survival amongst the harsh conditions nature can throw at us is as relevant today as it was in Flaherty’s films. MI

No comments:

Post a Comment