Friday, May 25, 2018


 R. F. K. Scott and his band of explorers
in The Great White Silence

The Great White Silence is documentary filmmaker Herbert Ponting's film shot during the British Terra Nova Expedition of 1910-1913, where the crew of that ship embarked on a voyage of discovery to the South Pole. This film is certainly of historical importance just for  footage of the journey itself and also just by being one of the first major documentary films (Would make a fine double feature with Nanook of the North). It has also become noteworthy in recent years because of the restoration of the film by the British Film Institute.

The film itself is one of triumph of tragedy,

The triumph is the journey itself. These stout, hardy men of the Terra Nova play hard (boxing bouts and getting sporty haircuts) and work hard (You try to sail to the South Pole!). They encounter icebergs larger than the eye can see and many other natural wonders. The boys even have time for skiing and football! We see seals, penguins, whales and other creatures of the sea, all set to celluloid by the intrepid Mr. Ponting.  It's a success right? They're going to make it, right?

That brings us to the tragedy, which is really the heart of the film. The main band of five, led by Captain R. F. Scott have to make their way all the way to the South Pole on the icy surface of Antarctica. The hazardous journey does indeed culminate at the South Pole...but only for the men to discover when they arrive that they were barely beaten there by a crew of Norwegians led by Roald Amundsen, who apparently found a short cut to the pole! (Damn Norwegians!) So much for planting the Union Jack! (But they do it anyway...God Save the Queen!)

That was disappointing...only it was about to get worse. The band had to make it all the way back to the boat under conditions that were brutal. They persevered and came close, but sadly, conditions that made travel eventually impossible overtook the crew and they never made it back. Captain Scott and most of his crew were eventually found frozen in their tent by a search party.

Scott became a posthumous national hero in Great Britain.

The United States Research Station of the South Pole is named the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, recognizing both crews of discovery.

March of the Penguins, 1911
in The Great White Silence


  1. If you liked this movie I have to recommend you to read The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Gerrard. It is about the Terra Nova expedition, but the Worst Journey itself is not as you may have expectes Scott's trip to the pole, but a winter trip to Cape Crozier by Wilson, Bowers and Gerrard himself. The little expedition was just insane.

  2. I watched this on YouTube a few years ago and I think it's one of the best documentaries ever made, right up there with Shoah, Woodstock and Grizzly Man.

  3. TSorenson: That sounds intriguing. Sometimes reading about explorer hardship can lead you to just stay out of harms way...but it's still interesting to learn about. Tony-I'm a fan of those films as well. I'm glad you mentioned Grizzly Man.

    1. I also considered Encounters at the End of the World and Cave of Forgotten Dreams, but it seemed like too much Herzog.