This short collage film is dedicated to Herbert Ponting, Antarctic story teller par excellence.
Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.
Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.
I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.[i]
Antarctica, the Great White South, seems to have inspired more words than it has snowflakes. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who went there with the famous explorer Scott of the Antarctic, said:
‘When I went South I never meant to write a book: I rather despised those who did so as being of an inferior brand to those who did things and said nothing about them. . . . I discovered that, without knowing it, I had intended to write one ever since I had realized my own experiences.’[ii]
Herbert Ponting wrote, took photographs and made film. Often he used his images to make multi-layered collages. Some contemporaries criticised his collages for ‘lying’ about the truth. Others, such as Scott, viewed his work as art pieces. Scott called Ponting a ‘camera artist’.
Before he left for Antarctica Ponting was already famous for his travelogues illustrated with his own beautiful photographs.
In 1910 Ponting sailed to Antarctica on the Terra Nova with Scott.
The men heading south with Scott certainly knew Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s seminal English Romantic poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. Coleridge could have been writing about the Terra Nova’s trip south:
And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.
I particularly enjoy Coleridge rhyming ‘cold’ and ‘emerald’. The Ancient Mariner’s dialect accent is so clearly heard in that rhyme.
Scott never left Antarctica, but Ponting did. In his posthumously published diaries Scott told his own story. Since 1913 they’ve never been out of print. Ponting told his version of the story in ‘The Great White South‘.
Then, like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, Herbert Ponting felt compelled to spend the rest of his life retelling the story of the expedition.
[ii] Apsley Cherry-Garrard. The Worst Journey in the World. New York: George H Doran Co. London: Constable & Co Ltd. 1922. P. ix-x.
The music in the film is described as the definitive version of the Peter Gunn theme. I’ve no idea where it came from. If I can track it down I’ll update this.