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90 Degrees South (1933)


Main image of 90 Degrees South (1933)
35mm, 73 min, black & white
DirectorHerbert G. Ponting
Production CompanyNew Era Films
StoryHerbert G. Ponting
PhotographyHerbert G. Ponting

Introduction: Vice-Admiral E.R.G.R. Evans CB DSO; Commentator: Herbert G. Ponting (uncredited)

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Sound remake of the documentary The Great White Silence, charting the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-13 to Antarctica, under the leadership of Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

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90º South, the sound version of Herbert Ponting's silent documentary feature The Great White Silence (1924), was another chance for the official cameraman of Scott's British Antarctic Expedition to reissue and embellish this perennially fascinating material charting the Scott's epic and tragic journey.

The footage is essentially the same, and the sequence in which it is used matches that of the two previous incarnations: the lecture with which Ponting toured from the time of Scott's death in 1913 to the 1920s, and The Great White Silence itself. The coming of sound gave Ponting the opportunity to add his own commentary, which meant he could present more information than could be carried in intertitles and update the maps and plans used to explain the terrain and routes taken by the explorers. He also improved the treatment of the end of the story for which he had no footage and had to use photographs and portraits.

There is only one shot in 90º South that does not appear in The Great White Silence, showing the men building the hut and buttressing the walls with the coal briquettes that comprised their fuel. With the benefit of sound, however, Ponting could make more use of the impressive collection of still images he had accumulated. Thanks to this extra detail we learn, for example, that the polar party stopped for a day to collect rock samples at the head of the Beardmore Glacier. This was significant not only because they were a day's march from the food depot when they died, but also because the rocks and fossils that they collected have, ironically, been their most enduring scientific legacy, and have contributed to our understanding of plate tectonics.

Bryony Dixon

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Video Clips
Complete film (1:08:59)
Great White Silence, The (1924)
South - Sir Ernest Shackleton's Glorious Epic of the Antarctic (1919)
Ponting, Herbert (1870-1935)