I have watched and re-visited an interesting and diverse selection of Antarctic films during my planning and preparations for the Antarctic Ice marathons.
It started a bit over a year ago when I went to see the new BFI restoration, with a newly composed score, of Herbert Ponting’s film The Great White Silence. Ponting was the first known photographer to bring a cinematograph to the Antarctic continent and to take brief film sequences of the continent's fauna and the human explorers who were trying to "conquer" it. Between 1910 and 1913 he filmed the Terra Nova expedition. Scott did not choose cinematographer Ponting to accompany him to the South Pole and so Ponting remained on base and survived with his film sequences which formed the documentary The Great White Silence which was first released in 1924. It is an amazing piece of footage and insight into the expedition that does not fail to inspire and excite the imagination.
From one extreme to the other; and a few weeks ago I watched Whiteout the 2009 thriller set at a base in Antarctica just as the continent goes into winter. It is typical but reasonably tense and atmospheric thriller which is entertaining enough if you take it for what it is. A cautionary moment in the film sees Kate Beckinsale having her frost bitten fingers cut off. Not pleasant, and certainly an object lesson. Take care of those extremities Audrey.
The question is; do I revisit John Carpenter’s The Thing? Its a good and tense horror movie that frankly scared the ‘bejabbas’ out of me the first time a saw it, and still does to a certain extent. Perhaps that is not the vibe that I want to head out to Antarctica with. It could make for some nervous nights in the tent.
There is also the only movie to be shit entirely in Antarctica, South of Sanity, filmed in 2012 by and starring members of the British Antarctic survey during the Antarctic Winter. Contact is lost from a group and when a rescue team was sent into investigate no one was found alive. Cut off from the outside world, the small community gradually become fractured and antagonistic and a killer emerges. Members are picked off one by one, paranoia ensues and no one is safe. Whilst recommended it may not be the best viewing either before embarking on a challenge that is going to require some serious mental strength as I run for hours in the white, horizon less wilderness.
On Sunday afternoon I watched Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the end of the World. It is an interesting and lyrical observation of the people who are drawn to the continent and work there. There are some interesting characters there, and also some quite strange, quirky individuals out there: but then there are those who would argue that going to Antarctica to run marathons is strange. Watching the activity around McMurdo and the surrounding areas as well as at the Amundsen Scott base, I realised just how lucky I am. I am going to an area of the Antarctic continent that is relatively untouched and which remains an almost pristine wilderness. There is no permanent base at the Union Glacier and few people go there. That is awe inspiring in itself. This will be a special, once in a life time experience in so many ways.
Antarctica is the last great wilderness. It grabs people’s imagination and draws them to it. Not only has it inspired movies but poetry, novels and journals: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the final scenes of Frankenstein, H P Lovecraft’s The Mountains of Madness.
Last Christmas Alasdair gave me The Antarctic – A short Introduction to give me some basic facts and figures about the continent. I have been dipping in and out of it and using it for reference. He has also tried his best to get me to read or listen to The Mountains of Madness and to conjure up images of the Shoggoth. For the same reason that I am probably going to pass up the opportunity to re-watch The Thing or watch South of Sanity I think I might just pass that too.
I am taking Frances Spufford’s Antarctic Anthology to read as I travel. With contributions from the great explorers and travellers, novelists as well as travel writers and scientists I think it will be ideal reading as I travel and will inspire me and help me to assemble my thoughts and get my mind into the state that it needs to be in. I may also dip into another of his books: I may be some time Ice and The English Imagination. It looks at the poles as they have been perceived, and dreamed.
Finally, I will also read Gavin Francis’ prize winning Empire Antarctica which will provide a further insight into the experience that is living and working in Antartica. Also, my daughter recently went to a guest lecture that he gave and said how interesting it was and how entertaining Gavin Francis was. Interesting, she said that it made her re-evaluate her thinking on her ambition to live and work in Antarctica, and how she might react and be in that environment.