Today: July 22, 2024

The Great White Silence

By Jamie Steiner

Nothing can quite prepare you for the magical, strange and
disorientating otherworldliness of The Great White Silence, a legendary
documentary charting the initial stages of Captain Scott’s doomed attempt to
navigate the South Pole, first released in 1924 and thoroughly deserving of big
screen exhibition, not to mention a superb restoration effort by the BFI.

It is the thrilling cinematography, humorous editing and
amiable narration of the pioneering Herbert Ponting, one of a select breed of
devil-may-care adventurers and filmmakers who gives the likes of Werner Herzog
a run for his money (Herzog included several clips from The Great White Silence
in Encounters At The End Of The World, a film which owes a tremendous deal to
Ponting’s work), that imbues The Great White Silence with its spirit and
captivating oddness.

Displaying awe-inspiring technical ability for the age, Ponting
captures everything from the mundane to the extraordinary, including a whale
hunt and entrancing footage of seals. Seemingly an upbeat fellow, there is
plenty of footage of shipmates boxing, sharing a joke, explorers tending to
their dogs and the surreal mechanised snow tractors whose technical inferiority
would eventually play a part in Scott and his team’s demise.

Combined with a sense of humour and the thrill of
exploration, the Antarctic landscapes, extraterrestrial in their uninhabited
bleakness, lend themselves marvellously to the pitch blackness of the cinema
auditorium, creating the atmosphere of a nickelodeon or a ghoulish Victorian
fairground attraction. I found myself constantly imagining the original
audience’s reactions to these alien, foreign lands and peculiar creatures in
their natural habitats, an unseen world brought to life in the unique way only
cinema can.

A record of an expedition as famous for its ‘failure’ as it
is for its profound symbolism of man’s endeavour to discover the unknown, The
Great White Silence may test the patience of those unused or not so far
persuaded by silent film. However, for those willing to take the plunge will be
rewarded by the majesty of its imagery and riveted by its subject matter. There
are only a few films as unique as The Great White Silence and this is an
excellent opportunity to see it as it was intended to be shown; FilmJuice urges
you to take the chance.

Marcia Degia - Publisher

Marcia Degia, who has worked in the media industry for more than 20 years, is the Publishing Editor of KOL Social Magazine. See website:

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