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Great White Silence, The (1924)


Main image of Great White Silence, The (1924)
35mm, 7,300 ft, tinted/toned, silent
DirectorHerbert G. Ponting
PhotographyHerbert G. Ponting

Cast: Captain Robert Falcon Scott

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A record of the British Antarctic Expedition 1910, led by Captain Scott on the Terra Nova, and its ultimately doomed attempt to be the first team to reach the South Pole.

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In 1910, Captain Robert Falcon Scott led what he hoped would be the first successful team to reach the South Pole. But the expedition also had a complex (and completely genuine) scientific brief. Scott's decision to include a cameraman in his expedition team was a remarkable one for its time, and it is thanks to his vision - and to Herbert Ponting's superb eye - that, a century later, we have an astonishing visual account of his tragic quest.

The media rights to the photographs and footage contributed very substantially to the expedition's funding. Scott and Ponting had sold footage rights to Gaumont, who in November 1911 released the first set of films sent back by Ponting (before the assault on the Pole) under the title With Captain Scott to the South Pole. This was followed by two further instalments in 1912. After the news of Scott's death reached England on 11 February 1913, a respectful period was allowed to elapse before Gaumont's re-release of the material as The Undying Story of Captain Scott.

Ponting made the best of the disastrous situation by buying back the rights from Gaumont and embarking on a gruelling lecture tour, which included Buckingham Palace and troops during the Great War. The silent feature The Great White Silence, released in 1924, served as a eulogy to Scott and freed Ponting from having to accompany and commentate on the footage personally. A later version, with sound, was subsequently released as 90 Degrees South (1933).

The Great White Silence built on Ponting's lecture, introducing intertitles, as well as his own stills, maps, portraits and paintings, to create a narrative of the tragic events. He even filmed some novel sequences using models and stop-motion photography to show the various journeys of the polar teams. The final film was tinted and toned to express lighting effects. Ponting had the foresight to film Scott, Edward Wilson, 'Taff' Evans and Henry Bowers (interestingly, the same men, with Lawrence Oates, were to form the - as yet unselected - polar team) manhauling the sledge and cooking and sleeping in their tent, just as they were to do for real on the way to and from the Pole. He could not have predicted the tragic denouement - the team's discovery that Amundsen had beaten them to the Pole, and their terrible end in unseasonably cold weather just 11 miles short of the food and fuel depot.

Bryony Dixon

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Video Clips
1. October 1910 (5:49)
2. Arrival at Cape Evans (3:34)
3. The isolated polar party (5:06)
4. Amongst penguins (5:20)
90 Degrees South (1933)
Gaumont Graphic: Captain Scott and Dr. Wilson with the Pony 'Nobby' (1912)
Lieutenant Pimple's Dash for the Pole (1914)
Pathé's Animated Gazette: Memorial Service to the Antarctic Heroes (1913)
Pathé's Animated Gazette: The Ship 'Terra Nova' (1910)
Scott of the Antarctic (1948)
South - Sir Ernest Shackleton's Glorious Epic of the Antarctic (1919)
Topical Budget 95-1: The Terra Nova Returns Home (1913)
Topical Budget 971-2: Aerial Antarctic Discoveries (1930)
Ponting, Herbert (1870-1935)