Sunday, September 29, 2013

Das Eskimobaby

In the annals of real and purported "Eskimos" on screen, there may well be no stranger depiction than that given by Asta Nielsen in Heinz Schall's 1916 film, Das Eskimobaby. Neilsen, known for her ability to delivery quirky performances, outdoes herself here as a Greelandic Eskimo, "Ivigtut," suddenly transported from her native land to Berlin, where the explorer who brought her there treats her as some exotic specimen. It's a riff on the old "civilizing the native" trope that had already become a movie staple, but Nielsen's furious resistance to civilization and all it represents makes for some manic scenes. She doesn't understand mirrors (of course) is repulsed by beards, beds, and western clothing, and refuses to shed her fur pants for a formal gathering. The film survives, and has been released by Edition Filmmuseum as part of their Four films with Asta Nielsen.

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