The Great White Silence
Last night I went to see Herbert Ponting's epic masterpiece The Great White Silence, documenting his time in Antarctica with Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his crew while they embarked on that ill fated journey we are all too familiar with.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this tale from another perspective. While we are all familiar with Ponting's images and the odd snippet of film reel, sitting down to watch almost 2 hours of footage, complete with his narrative running throughout, brought it all to life in a way I hadn't anticipated. What struck me most was his genius sense of humour which had the whole cinema in an uproar at the most bizarre things, a tiny chick hatching from an egg ['Thats not a Yorkshire Terrier, its still the chick!'], Penguins courting one another [or giving each other the 'glad eye'], himself hanging off the side of the Terra Nova on a plank of wood while filming her slice through the ice. It was so wonderful finding that someone I have thought of as a hero for a while was actually a hilarious and wonderful chap to boot.
As a photographer you have to admire the man. Hanging off planks of wood on the side of a boat while she fires through an ice floe aside - the man also built himself a fully functioning darkroom/bedroom in the middle of Scott's tiny hut from whatever bits were available to him, hauled all of his kit around on sledges, camped out in actual Antarctic conditions for days just to get the perfect shot. I complain if I have to walk up a hill to take a photo on my SLR which fits into my bag? What is that about! Scott himself described Ponting as 'an artist in love with his work' - he spent an entire Summer out on the ice photographing everything he could and an entire Winter in the hut processing this work - certainly something I will try and think about when I need motivation to scan some film at the weekends.
I'm currently halfway through reading Scott's journals, and it was great to be able to see a lot of the events I've read about so far unfold on screen in front of me, as well as just the men bantering around the camp stove, meet the dogs and ponies I've come to know throughout Scott's writing, sailors playing with the ship's cat [who had been "further south than any other cat on earth that ever was a kitten!"] playing football in the snow - then onto the slow, sad trek South.
Due to Ponting's sharp wit throughout a lot of the first half of the film, I actually forgot or just didn't think about what was to come. One moment you are laughing at penguins, the next you are suddenly remembering the outcome of the trip. It was pretty immense. I did a bit of a cry.
King George said every schoolboy should watch this film, and I agree - everyone [boys and girls thank you very much King G] should see this film. I'm pretty certain I'm getting it as soon as it comes out on DVD to watch when I need to watch something comforting. Its hilarious, its captivating, and its inspiring. Herbert Ponting is a master at his craft and is definitely invited to my fantasy dinner party.