'South': Antarctic Expedition Documentary SFSFF Hit

South Antarctic Ernest Shackleton expeditionSouth: Sir Ernest Shackleton's Glorious Epic of the Antarctic

It was surprising to see the large crowd waiting to get into the 2012 San Francisco Silent Film Festival screening of South: Sir Ernest Shackleton's Glorious Epic of the Antarctic (1920). I did not think that a documentary would interest so many people, but the theater was packed.

South – the screening was narrated by Paul McGann – tells the story of the 1914-1916 expedition across the Antarctic, led by explorer Ernest Shackleton on the ship “The Endurance.” Shackleton was accompanied by a crew, a kennel of dogs, and photographer Frank Hurley.

Whether the Antarctic adventure can be called successful or not, is up for debate. After being locked in ice for nine months, the ship got stuck, eventually shattering and sinking in the Weddell Sea. South's most striking scene, in fact, was of the crew watching “The Endurance” crack and fall apart in an icy grave. Consisting of both motion picture and stills of the ship in the throes of destruction, that sequence was both beautiful and eerie.

Then South stops the disaster story during the time Shackleton goes for help. With the time he had left, Hurley focused on filming the wildlife and Antarctic scenery on South Georgia, where penguins, sea lions, and albatrosses played in their world of ice and snow – and became food and sustenance for the weary crew, until the men were rescued by another ship.

Stephen Horne's musical accompaniment

Now a few words about the musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne. Personally, I enjoy hearing more than just a piano at silent screenings – and Mr. Horne delivers. A virtual One-Man Band, he accompanies his piano playing with accordion and flute. At times, I was able to watch him play, and I noticed he was looking at the screen instead of sheet music. I was impressed by the way he improvised – or plays “cold,” as he calls it. Now, that's talent!

South: Sir Ernest Shackleton's Glorious Epic of the Antarctic is also known as In the Grip of the Polar Ice Cap or The Bottom of the World.

Note: This review of the documentary South: Sir Ernest Shackleton's Glorious Epic of the Antarctic was initially posted in July 2012.

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