9
Oct 03

I saw bits of Shackleton, all Kenneth Branagh posturing,

Do You SeePost a comment • 266 views

I saw bits of Shackleton, all Kenneth Branagh posturing, and know what every schoolboy knew about the man. Namely that he was the Brit who didn’t make it to the South Pole, as opposed to the one who did and died. Damn those pesky, dog-eating, intelligent Norwegians. Anyway, he was vaguely lodged as a noble failure in my mind, that is until I saw South.

South is a remarkable film: a documentary made by the crews filmmaker. That in 1914 Ernest Shackleton and his crew felt that a it was worthwhile having a camera aboard shows their own desire to make history. The film plays up the patriotic spirit, it was post-World War I propaganda after all, but what is most striking about the film is the abject failure of the project. You see they got in their big boat, loaded it up with dogs and set sail for Antartica. And got frozen in some ice. And stayed stuck in the ice for six months. At which point the ice ate up their ship and they traveled across the ice to seek safe haven on an island. About a year later they were rescued.

The film does not quite present it like this. No, the inter-titles are constantly reminding us of the glory of the British Empire and the pluck and courage of the men involved. Certainly pluck and courage is involved, but most of the shots are of blokes larking about, stuck in the ice with nothing better to do. There are some tremendous shots of their doomed, ice-laden ship, lit up like some fairytale galleon, an effect devised almost definitely to distract the bored men. When danger really kicks in we get a lot less reportage, unsurprising considering the men were now fighting for their lives. Even the playfulness of their dogs is put into sharp relief when you think that after dragging them across this ice, they were more than likely eaten (like them Norwegians – damn them).

The film celebrates the bravery without ever going near the abject stupidity on display. When the audience starts thinking about that the get some elephant seals or penguins to cavort. The saddest aspect is that quite possibly some of this crew, after their ordeal and rescue, were shipped back to die in the trenches of WWI. A folly almost as great as Shackleton’s.

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