Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Race to the Pole III featuring South (Shackleton's Glorious Epic)

SOUTH – SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON’S GLORIOUS EPIC OF THE ANTARCTIC (Imperial Trans-Antarctic Film Syndicate, GB 1919) D, DP: Frank Hurley; 35 mm, 4835 ft, 72' (18 fps), col. (tinted and toned); from: BFI National Archive, London. English intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, live audio commentary: Paul McGann, piano. flute, and accordeon: Stephen Horne, 8 Oct 2011.

GCM catalogue: "At this performance, Paul McGann will read extracts from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1919 memoir, South, providing additional commentary to the images. The piano accompaniment is by Stephen Horne. Paul McGann first achieved international celebrity with his performance in Bruce Robinson’s cult British film Withnail and I (1987). His numerous stage, film, and television roles since then have included Doctor Who (he was the eighth incumbent), and his acclaimed 2011 performance in the revival of Butley at London’s Duchess Theatre."

Bryony Dixon: "Frank Hurley was already an experienced Antarctic traveller when he took up the position of official photographer and cinematographer for Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914. The young Australian was only 26 when he first went to Antarctica in 1911 with still- and cine-cameras as part of Douglas Mawson’s Aurora expedition. His time with Mawson and Herbert Ponting’s success with his Scott footage persuaded Shackleton that he needed an experienced professional to photograph his expedition. Raising money for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on the brink of war with Germany was a feat of will-power of which only someone of Shackleton’s determination was capable, but to which the rights to Frank Hurley’s films and photographs would significantly contribute. Hurley was much inspired by Herbert Ponting’s masterly and popular multi-media lecture on the Scott Expedition, which combined film, music, still images, maps, and, of course, commentary. This lecture format is the key to understanding the structure of most of the Polar films of the “Heroic Age”. Hurley’s South (1919) was, after Amundsen’s film, the first to be packaged for stand-alone release in cinemas, but still retains much of the feel of the lecture, incorporating still images and explanatory titles. It was released in Australia in 1920 under the title In the Grip of Polar Ice."

"Sir Ernest Shackleton, having been somewhat eclipsed as premier Antarctic explorer by Scott, planned a brave attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica via the Pole. But his ambitious plan faltered soon after they left the Falklands in unusual weather and the Endurance became trapped in heavy pack-ice. Completely stuck, Shackleton and his crew drifted helplessly northward during the long Antarctic winter while listening to the creaks and groans of their ship the Endurance slowly being crushed by the ice. What followed is one of the greatest survival stories ever told as Shackleton became entirely focused on saving his men, which he did against almost impossible odds. Hurley had documented their time in the ice using specially rigged-up lights to produce stunning images of the break-up and sinking of the ship, but of course he could not film the extraordinary 850-mile journey in the open boat undertaken by Shackleton. He and the shore party were left on Elephant Island to wait for help, so that the (to us) most exciting part of the narrative is not covered in the film, and we default to the images of Antarctic wildlife which he already had in the can. This gives the cinema version of South a slightly interrupted feel, whereas the lecture format would have had the advantage of smoothing out the narrative using commentary and still images. Nevertheless, the film was an extraordinary achievement in such circumstances."

"A record of one of the greatest epics in the history of exploration, this is the original 1919 film produced by Shackleton and Frank Hurley, now restored by the British Film Institute with the original tints and toning." – Bryony Dixon

AA: The film presentation was a successful reconstruction of a lecture show with live audio commentary and music. Beautiful cinematography in this thrilling story in which the topics include dogs, icebreaking, migration of seals, emperor penguins, an experimental motor-sledge, biological samples via a deep net, shags, and giant petrels. The expedition was a devastating experience, and the demise of the ship is the central event of the movie. There is also impressive footage from the whaling station. The restoration is beautiful, and the toning hues are successful.

EL HOMENAJE DEL URUGUAY A LOS RESTOS DE SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON (Henry Maurice, UY 1922) DP: ?; 35 mm, 667 ft, 10' (18 fps); from: Imperial War Museum, London. Spanish intertitles. No translation. Grand piano: John Sweeney.

"Huge crowds gather for the lying in state of the body of Sir Ernest Shackleton in Montevideo, Uruguay, and its transfer to ship for burial on the island of South Georgia." – Bryony Dixon
AA:  A fine composition in the cinematography in this movie memorial. Duped quality in the print.

SOUTHWARD ON THE “QUEST” (GB 1922) (extract) DP: J.C. Bee-Mason, Hubert Wilkins; 35 mm, 386 ft, 5' (20 fps); from: BFI National Archive, London. English intertitles. E-subtitles in Italian. Grand piano: John Sweeney.

Bryony Dixon: "A record of the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic expedition, 1921. Sir Ernest Shackleton’s fourth and final voyage to Antarctica marked the end of the “Heroic Age”. Restless after the War, the great explorer originally intended to go north to the Arctic, but instead planned a a circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent to map around 2,000 miles of uncharted coastline and take soundings to investigate the possibility of an underwater continental connection between Africa and America. An airplane was taken but never used."

"Although most of the film was shot after Shackleton’s death, the first shot shows the great man bathing “Query”, the expedition’s dog, on board the Quest. Some views of Grytviken, South Georgia, were taken before Shackleton’s sudden death there, of a coronary thrombosis. The ship, under Frank Wild, sailed to Montevideo, from where they intended to send the body back to England, but Lady Shackleton requested that they bury him on South Georgia. Leonard Hussey took the body back to Grytviken while the Quest sailed on. On the ship’s return members of the expedition and crew were filmed visiting Shackleton’s grave and erecting a memorial cairn over him."

"We know very little about the film. J.C. Bee-Mason, having film-making and expedition experience, was appointed as cinematographer, but he succumbed to very bad seasickness in the unsuitably small Quest and was forced to quit the ship at Madeira. The practical Hubert Wilkins, who had been his cabin mate in the ship’s darkroom, undertook the rest of the filming." – Bryony Dixon
AA: An interesting complement to the Shackleton odyssey. A duped quality of the image.

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