LOVE THE BOOK? See the movie. That's the usual marketing come-on for trashy airport tomes adapted to the big screen. Here, the situation is a little different. Caroline Alexander's best-selling 1998 account of Shackleton's ill-fated 1914-16 Antarctic expedition actually followed the successful film by 79 years! Now, for a short two-day run, armchair adventurers obsessed with Shackleton can see the restored original quasi documentary directed by his official expedition photographer—Frank Hurley. Hurley's stunning images are the centerpiece of Alexander's book, and his compositional eye is evident in much of this 1919 film. South isn't a strictly objective "documentary" of course; it was originally intended to pay for the expedition (and did), at a time in the silent era when nonfiction films were frequent top-grossers. It's also a travelogue with plenty of whimsy and filler (penguin, dog, and seal lovers take note), shot before and after the journey.
SOUTH: ERNEST SHACKLETON AND THE ENDURANCE EXPEDITION
photographed and directed by Frank Hurley
runs December 8-9 at Egyptian
But it's the journey that counts. Shackleton enthusiasts can quote the daily logs of how the Endurance was stuck in the ice for months, then destroyed, forcing her freezing, starving crew to walk, row, and sail to safety. The most famous part of their voyage was navigating a 22-foot lifeboat over 800 miles of open water to reach South Georgia Island—across the most inhospitable piece of ocean on the planet.
HISTORY'S QUAINT, of course, in the silent black-and-white, herky-jerky images of a primitive hand-cranked camera. Yet it's also shockingly real. As the intertitles laud "British pluck, self-sacrifice and indomitable courage," we watch these brave, suddenly familiar men clowning for the camera. We fear for them, knowing what peril lies ahead—as they do not. Then the Endurance is crushed. "It was at this stage of the Expedition that the real troubles and hardships commenced," South tells us, and its remarkable footage serves as a fascinating prologue to the survival epic that followed.