Twenty-Four Dollar Island - Robert J. Flaherty


Rental Format(s): Digital File

Complete title: Twenty-Four Dollar Island: A Camera Impression of New York
Maker: Robert J. Flaherty
Original format: 35mm silent film 1.33:1
Shot c.1925, edited 1925-27, and restored 2005, 2019
New music: Donald Sosin
Courtesy: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Gosfilmofond of Russia, Robert and Francis Flaherty Film Study Center

You understand that I am speaking of a film in which New York is the central character, not a picture in which individuals are portrayed, which would make New York merely the background for a story. I am talking about the picture in which New York is the story. -Robert Flaherty 1927

At once raw and eloquent, Twenty-Four Dollar Island seems unfinished, and it may well have been. Very little is known except that parts of it were eventually used as a backdrop in a New York stage show. We also know that Rebecca Strand, wife of photographer Paul Strand, mentions seeing the film August 1925 in an air-conditioned movie theater. As late as 1929, the film circulated widely and here is derived from two very similar distribution prints, one slightlly more complete held at EYE Film Institute Netherlands and the other from Gosfilmofond of Russia.

What we see is an artist's infatuated with the Manhattan skyline shot by various telephotos lenses. Views made from the same camera positions are organized into visual clusters, and closer inspection reveals a vague attempt at organization, wherein Flaherty looks at what is in front of him to explore the space from slightly different angles. There is also sense of an internal dialogue directed at earlier New York City scenics, such as Strand and Sheeler's Manhatta (1921) and the ever-present newsreels. -Bruce Posner

Between Robert J. Flaherty's (1884-1951) major feature-length films, Nanook of the North (1922), Moana (1926), Man of Aran (1934), and Louisiana Story (1948), he made several smaller ones outside the epic man-against-nature format. More than 50 years after his death, Flaherty's name still stands out among the most celebrated in motion picture history. -Cecile Starr

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