The Great White Silence

The BFI screens newly restored film of Scott's expedition

Captain Scott's ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica differed from many other similar expeditions in the heroic age of exploration because of his very modern decision to bring along a professional photographer and cinematographer, Herbert Ponting. Indeed, selling the media rights to the footage contributed to the expedition's funding. The first films were sent back on the ship while the expedition over-wintered, meaning cinema audiences in England saw footage of the explorers as early as November 1911.

Ponting's images have proved some of the most enduring of the entire era - The Folio Society edition of Scott's Last Expedition: The Journals of Captain R. F. Scott is illustrated with many iconic photographs - but just as arresting is the early moving picture footage he took. On his return, Ponting hand-tinted and toned the footage as well as embarking on some exceptional editing to show a combination of everyday life, and geographic marvels.

Wildlife captured on camera includes killer whales, seals and penguins; ice caves and crevasses make breathtaking viewing, while the terrifying hazards undergone by ship and crew (gales, pack ice, icebergs to name just a few) were filmed by Ponting as he clung to a makeshift platform lowered over the ship's side. Perhaps most moving is the footage of Scott and his companions manhauling, cooking and sleeping in their tent, just as they would on their true dash for the Pole.

A team of restorers has spent two decades on the restoration work, a process which has involved digitally scanning the prints, cleaning them and restoring damaged sections before a new 35mm film version was created. The results were shown on 20 October at the British Film Institute as part of the BFI London Film Festival - click here for more details. You can read more about the Folio edition here.

last modified: Mon, Sep 12th 2011Bookmark and Share
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