I went to the QFT today to see the restoration of the 1924 film, The Great White Silence: the amazing edit of documentary footage taken during the Scott Antarctic expedition of 1911. The original tinting was retained, but a new ambient score was produced to accompany the silent footage.
The film was interesting, though my eyes kept closing (after a night in the woods and a soaking, cold hike this morning), which meant I missed a few of the descriptive frames. Added, the old people beside me kept talking loudly to each other to point out old grammatical stylings, or who’s dog a particular husky reminded them of; but I enjoyed what went uninterrupted.
Classic footage, scenery, and iconic images freed from the frozen capture of photographs. Team antics, everyday life and animal watching comprise a hefty chunk of the footage and provide levity before the drama we know is going to unfold. I was intrigued to see differences in the timescales, equipment*, and attitudes than would be prevalent on expeditions today; like the purpose of the voyage and the circumstances around their ultimate fate. Defeated to the prime objective of being first to the South Pole was a crushing blow to the group, one that was further compiled by the conditions and loss of men on the return leg. Could the psychological impact have been the ultimate factor in their hardship and decline… from simply being too down-beaten to realise their survival (only 11 miles away in the end), to the possibility of unconsciously falling on their sword for the dignity of King & country?
The expedition mascot was a black cat with a rather un-PC name. While it performed cute tricks on camera you could feel the room hesitant to laugh at the innocent hilarity lest it be misconstrued as racist sympathy. Does this moment metaphor a mirrored feeling: that of modern, white, middle-class Britain proud to remember this feat of the old Empire, despite the same cause having many more-shameful acts in its history?
Of course, it is the conscious character, effort, and suffering of the individuals that we truly honour here. Though these reasons are separate, it is healthy to consider the wider setting; and though they are what inspires us, it is also healthy to question those psychological conditions… that we may push back the limits in our own minds, harsh and troubled regions that they may be.
Perhaps we can find a place that it is not necessary to return from.
…a great white silence?
* the main Pole-party were clearly minimal in the amount of gear taken, but lacking our technical & material advances. Layering and thin wind-shirts were evident though!