Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Race to the Pole I

Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Mie Yanashita (very good, and funny in Amundsen's penguin sequence), 2 Oct 2011.

THE SCOTTISH ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION (GB, 1902-04) DP: William Speirs Bruce, Gilbert Kerr(?); DigiBeta, 7'; from: Scottish Screen Archive / National Library of Scotland, Glasgow. No intertitles.

Jan Anders Diesen, Bryony Dixon (GCM Catalogue): "As William Speirs Bruce set out on his Antarctic expedition in 1902 a Scottish newspaper wrote: “The Scottish Expedition is not setting out on a wild, extravagant dash for the South Pole, but rather on a patient, economical voyage of investigation and discovery. The results may not affect prices on the Stock Exchange, but they will surely add to the world’s store of scientific knowledge, and help man to an understanding of many things which, even in the twentieth century, remain mysteries.”"

"Bruce led a purely scientific expedition, described by Peter Speak in his book on Bruce as “by far the most cost-effective and carefully planned scientific expedition of the Heroic Age”. His main goals were oceanographic studies of the Southern Ocean and the compilation of meteorological, biological, and topographical data. He brought along all kinds of scientific apparatus – as well as photographic equipment, including a Verascope (for taking stereoscopic images), conventional cameras, and a cine-camera. Although he had a great deal of trouble with his cine-camera, he managed to secure the first film footage from Antarctica. In his log entry for 21 October 1903 he writes: “I got the cinematograph ready, and with Gilbert Kerr went over to the near Cape Martin penguin rookery. I succeeded in getting about fifteen metres of film rolled.” Most of his filming jammed in the camera due to the low temperature, but this fragment survived, showing a minute or so of floating ice and the much-desired penguin shot."

"The rest of The Scottish Antarctic Expedition consists of footage of the returning expedition party at Millport, Scotland, in July 1904, including shots of their ship the Scotia, a former Norwegian whaler, and Bruce and his companions being welcomed by cheering crowds." Jan Anders Diesen, Bryony Dixon

AA: Footage on ice, penguins, ships.

DEPARTURE OF THE BRITISH ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION FROM LYTTELTON N.Z. 1ST JAN. 1908 (NZ, 1908) DP: James McDonald; 35 mm, 481 ft, 7' (18 fps); print source: The New Zealand Film Archive/Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua, Wellington. English titles.

"Crowds head for Lyttelton by tram to say farewell to Lieutenant Shackleton and his crew bound for Antarctica. His ship Nimrod is loaded at Lyttelton Harbour and inspected by Admiral Sir Wilmot Fawkes. The Nimrod sails out of the harbour escorted by well-wishers." – Bryony Dixon

AA: Footage on Manchurian ponies, Shackleton's message.

ROALD AMUNDSENS SYDPOLSFERD 1910-12 (Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition 1910-12) [La spedizione al Polo Sud di Roald Amundsen] (NO 1912) DP: Roald Amundsen, Kristian Prestrud; cinema version, 35 mm, 987 ft, 16' (16 fps); print source: Norwegian Film Institute/National Library of Norway, Oslo. Norwegian intertitles.

Jan Anders Diesen: "It was Shackleton’s Nimrod lecture in Oslo in November 1909 that inspired Roald Amundsen to take a film camera with him on his expedition to Antarctica in 1910. International lecture tours were a major contributor to the fundraising for polar expeditions, and could help defray the cost of the expedition afterwards as well as providing a platform for celebrating its achievements. Moving pictures clearly added something extra to the lectures, but Amundsen did not consider it important enough to justify bringing along a professional photographer; instead he undertook the filming himself on the way south aboard the Fram. On arrival in Antarctica he made the camera the responsibility of another member of the expedition, Kristian Prestrud. Despite their inexperience, the two film photographers managed to secure 40 minutes of good film footage from the first expedition to reach the South Pole. Like Herbert Ponting simultaneously filming the British expedition across the Ross Ice Shelf, Prestrud took scenes of the ship, life in camp, the polar team setting off (a beautiful shot of the receding sledges carrying Amundsen away into the vanishing point), and some wildlife scenes, including a very fine shot of a pod of orcas."

"When Amundsen returned to Norway, Hugo Hermansen, a pioneering figure in early Norwegian film, edited together several different versions of the South Pole films in lecture form, tailored for the Norwegian, English, and German markets. Hermansen also made a stand-alone cinema version – forming a simple narrative with the help of explanatory titles for release once Amundsen had finished his lecture tour of Norway."

"All the different versions of the film have been restored by the National Library of Norway and released on DVD. The orchestral score commissioned to accompany the cinema version on DVD attempts to recreate the music played at the Cirkus Verdensteateret for its premiere in September 1912. His experience from the South Pole Expedition made Amundsen realize the importance of film, and for all his later expeditions he employed professional cameramen. His following 4 films have been restored by the National Library in Oslo and will be screened at a later festival." – Jan Anders Diesen

AA: Revisited the fascinating expedition film shot by Amundsen himself. The scene in silhouette of the encounter of man and penguin has classic value. The film itself does not convey the true drama, it needs commentary.

NIHON NANKYOKU TANKEN (The Japanese Expedition to Antarctica) [Spedizione giapponese in Antartide] (M. Pathé Shokai, JP 1912) DP: Yasunao Taizumi; 35 mm, 1121 ft, 20' (15 fps); print source: National Film Center, Tokyo. Japanese intertitles, with English subtitles. Printed in 2000 from a 35 mm safety dupe negative at the National Film Center, Tokyo.

Jan Anders Diesen: "One of the most remarkable shots in the film Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition 1910-12 shows another expedition ship alongside the Fram in the Bay of Whales in February 1912. The ship, the Kainan-Maru, was commanded by Lieutenant Nobu Shirase, an army officer turned explorer on his Japanese Antarctic Expedition 1910-12. Shirase’s expedition had a professional cinematographer, Yasuna Taizumi, on board to record the events during their second year. Twenty minutes of this film survives at the National Film Center in Japan. This piece of film was presented as “one of the earliest documentary films produced in Japan in a true sense” during the International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) in 2008."

"The film shows the departure from Japan, the voyage south with all the members of the expedition, scenes from Antarctica, and their triumphant return to Japan. Among the scenes shot in Antarctica there is one sequence that differs from the others. When the boat prepares to land we first see the crew disembarking from the Kainan-Maru with small sledges. The film then quickly cuts to a sequence where we see a group of four men pulling a larger sledge and pitching a tent quite different from the tent we see used later in the same film. Also, as far as we know, the Shirase expedition did not use this type of sledge. Like the Norwegians, the Japanese used dog sledges, and moved quickly on their dash to 80 degrees and 5 minutes South. Within the film there are also a few still photos documenting this trip – here we see them using smaller sledges, dogs, and skis. The shot of four men man-hauling the sledge may be from a different expedition. Could it be footage from one of the missing films of Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition, which we know was being sold by Gaumont in 1909? If that is so, it is fortunate that the Japanese have secured film footage previously considered lost."

"When the film was released in film theatres around Japan, the enthusiasm of the audience rivaled that of the news films from the Russo-Japanese War. The film premiered in Tokyo in June 1912." Jan Anders Diesen

AA: From a battered source another fascinating Antarctic film. My favourite sequence is the montage of the close-ups of the ship's crew. Battling gales, dodging ice, celebrating the New Year, deeply respecting the Emperor. English subtitles by Sarah Teasley.

PATHÉ’S ANIMATED GAZETTE NO. 140: Esquimaux dogs with Dr. Mawson’s Australian Antarctic Expedition on the deck of the SS Aldenham, Sydney, November 1911 (Pathé Animated Gazette, GB 1911) DP: ?; 35 mm, 36 ft, 1' (18 fps); print source: BFI National Archive, London. English intertitles.

AA: A good visual quality in this newsreel, which is interesting also in its other sections (the Stockholm torpedo!).

[THE FILM OF THE MAWSON AUSTRALASIAN ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION] (AU, 1911-1912) (1914-1916 lecture version) DP: Frank Hurley; narr. (lecture notes): Douglas Mawson (recorded by Quentin Turnour); DigiBeta, 20', sd.; from: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia. English narration, with English intertitles.

Quentin Turnour: "Although less well-known than the Scott and Amundsen expeditions of the summer of 1911-12, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) led in the same years by Douglas Mawson was arguably one of the most productive of the “Heroic Age”. A geologist by training and a former member of Shackleton’s 1907 Nimrod Expedition, the 28-year-old Mawson chose the hard slog of extensive exploration of the “Adele Land” [Adélie] region directly to the south of Australia, rather than the immediate glittering prize of the “Dash to the Pole”. For all its more practical approach, the AAE still had its own romance and tragedies: two members of Mawson’s own sledging party, Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz, died during an arduous expedition to King George V Land. Mawson barely survived the subsequent 160-kilometre march, completely alone, back to base, an extraordinary feat, legendary in Australian exploration history."

"The AAE is also legendary in Australian film history. It was the first professional filmmaking job of Frank Hurley, then just 25 years old, who would go on to work as cameraman on Shackleton’s 1914-15 Endurance expedition (see South, 1919). His reputation as a predominant figure in exploration filmmaking must have contributed to the mistaken belief that the AAE film was solely his work, but this received history has begun to unravel in recent years, de-emphasizing Hurley’s role beyond the original cinematography, and placing more importance on the work of Mawson, the Gaumont Company’s Sydney office, and other filmmakers (particularly Richard Primmer, a Gaumont Sydney stringer we now know contributed additional scenes after the company saw the marginal quality of some of Hurley’s early footage)."

"Like Amundsen’s films, The Great White Silence and South, the AAE footage was released in many forms from the start. Starting as a lecture in 1912, a new version of the film was released by Gaumont in July 1913 – to capitalize both on the news of Scott’s death and Mawson’s heroic survival. This included additional footage and stills that Hurley shot during the rescue mission in March 1913. Subsequently Mawson prepared a new lecture using the AAE footage, working with Gaumont technical staff in both London and Australia, especially on grading and tinting and toning detail (for which Mawson’s exhaustive notes still survive)."

"The version long known as Home of the Blizzard appears to be a copy of a work print of around 4,000+ feet, printed in late 1916 and including Mawson’s detailed tinting and toning instructions. Some 15,000+ feet of film were passed to the Film Division of the Australian National Library (now the NFSA) around 1961. At some point during the interim, an extensive cull of damaged and decayed nitrate removed up to one-half of the surviving 1912 and 1913 Gaumont prints, which are now unreconstructable, while duplication to acetate in the early 1960s resulted in the loss of the colour in all surviving footage."

"However, the rediscovery of scripts for Mawson’s New York and London lectures, along with his detailed notes made between 1914 and 1916, now make it possible to reconstruct various versions of Mawson’s lectures. This includes not just the film, but his commentary and dozens of lantern slides, including a number using early Paget’s Plate colour processes. This is a tantalizing prospect, as it now appears that the AAE film is the only one of the “Heroic Age” films for which there survives a lecture script that can be narratively “interlocked” into surviving film images."

"However, this is still very much a work for the future. What you will see today is a 20-minute sample of how this could come together. The first part covers the Aurora’s journey south; the second, Hurley’s famous footage of expedition members walking against the notorious Adélie Land winds." – Quentin Turnour

AA: A reconstruction of the original illustrated lecture. This entry in the programme made the most sense because of the commentary. The overwhelming power of the blizzard was made evident.

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