Eight years before Flaherty’s ‘Nanook of the North’, which remains the representative example of the ethnographic fiction film, Edward S. Curtis had already experimented in the genre with his not-quite-documentary ‘In the Land of the Head Hunters’. Today, this survey of the Kakwaka’wakw tribe (indigenous to northern Vancouver Island) is doubly interesting. Firstly, for its dramatic adventure story: a tale of vengeful sorcerers, ghastly demons, bloodthirsty warlords and severed heads, at once spirited and deeply spiritual. Secondly, and most memorably, for its sweeping shots of the North Pacific, and its valuable record of the customs of the tribal societies that once lived beside it. A century later, the images captured by Curtis’s camera retain a mysterious fascination, amplified by the oneiric power of silent cinema. Restored and given a new soundtrack by French musician Rodolphe Burger, ‘Land’ deserves a wider audience upon its rerelease. More than just an exotic curio, it’s a haunting monument to a vanished people.
In the Land of the Head Hunters
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