- South: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Glorious Epic of the Antarctic (1919) movie review: Surprisingly popular San Francisco Silent Film Festival presentation featured unique and harrowing documentary footage.
South: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Glorious Epic of the Antarctic review: Unusually agonizing history/adventure documentary
I was surprised to see the large crowd waiting to get into this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival screening of South: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Glorious Epic of the Antarctic. I didn’t think that a documentary shot in the mid-1910s would interest so many people, but the theater was packed.
Narrated by Paul McGann, the screening of South recounted the story of Anglo-Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton’s 1914–17 expedition across the Antarctic. Sailing on the Endurance, Shackleton was accompanied by a crew, a kennel of dogs, and Australian photographer/cinematographer Frank Hurley.
Whether or not Shackleton’s South Pole adventure – known as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition – can be called successful is up for debate. After being locked in ice for nine months, the ship eventually shattered and sank in the Weddell Sea. South’s most striking sequence, in fact, is of the crew watching the Endurance in the throes of destruction. Beautiful and eerie, this segment consists of both film footage and stills of the ship falling apart in its icy grave.
At that point, Shackleton set out in search of help; that meant sailing in lifeboats for hundreds of kilometers. Upon finally landing on the southern Atlantic island of South Georgia, Frank Hurley focused on filming the local scenery and wildlife; penguins, sea lions, and albatrosses played in their world of ice and snow – and became food for the weary crew until their eventual rescue by another ship. (Only a handful of men sailed to South Georgia; most Endurance crew members and the dogs were left behind awaiting rescue on Elephant Island.)
Talented Stephen Horne
Now a few words about the musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne.
Personally, I enjoy hearing more than just a piano at silent film 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 noticed he was looking at the screen instead of the 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 (1919)
Director: Frank Hurley.
Cast: Ernest Shackleton. Frank Worsley (Captain of the Endurance). J. Stenhouse (Captain of the accompanying ship Aurora).
“South: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Glorious Epic of the Antarctic Movie Review” endnotes
South: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Glorious Epic of the Antarctic reviewed at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (website).
It’s unclear whether The Bottom of the World, released by the U.S.-based company Robertson-Cole in 1920, is a version of South.
South: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Glorious Epic of the Antarctic movie image via the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
“South Movie: Ernest Shackleton’s Harrowing Antarctic Expedition” last updated in January 2022.