Man of Aran
Robert J. Flahertys award-winning Man of Aran uses stunning location photography and brilliant montage editing to build a forceful drama of life on the Aran Islands. Situated among the frequent and violent storms that slam into its barren landscape, the islands are "three wastes of rock" off the western coast of Ireland. With a small crew, Flaherty spent nearly two years shooting, developing, and assembling footage of the islanders Herculean efforts to survive in unbearably harsh conditions. Home Vision Entertainment is proud to present this historic masterpiece in a new digital transfer.
While it stretches the definition of documentary, Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran remains a triumph of poetic imagery, and one of the greatest nonfiction films ever made. Critic Pauline Kael hailed it as "the greatest film tribute to man's struggle against hostile nature," referring to conditions faced by bold residents of the Aran Islands, 30 miles offshore from Galway, Ireland, amidst the harshest seas of the Atlantic. Flaherty and his tiny crew spent over two years on the islands, chronicling the rugged lives of the Araners on a landscape so rocky that seaweed is used as improvised soil. Flaherty cast the film with assorted locals and recreated anachronistic events (such as the harpooning of a basking shark) from Aran's past, inviting controversy over the film's authenticity. That debate continues on this DVD's exceptional bonus features (for retrospective insight, "How the Myth Was Made" is every bit as good as Flaherty's film), but Man of Aran is, and always will be, a timeless record of extraordinary people, miraculously surviving in a most extraordinary place. --Jeff Shannon
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So, the movie is fascinating for the life it is depicting.
And it is a beautiful movie -- one beautiful scene after another.
But one is also dazzled by the movie's technical excellence and reach. How in the WORLD did they get footage like this in 1934?!
It's worth noting that film was still just emerging from the silent era then, and Robert Flaherty apparently filmed a silent film and then masterfully added sound -- there's very little dialogue (other than incidental). The repeated footage of the sea breaking on that cliff-lined coast conveys all of the power and danger of that surf. (The print seems of good quality.) The documentaries on the DVD show just how primitive the cameras and other equipment were -- indeed, the four documentary featurettes tell much about the difficulties and limitations of film production of the day.
The documentaries also put the film in perspective, returning to a much-tamed Aran of a later day. The interviews with former cast members and other islanders can be touching and genuine.
Possibly Robert Flaherty's best film, and the DVD is a worthy vehicle for it.