Sunday, July 15, 2012

SFSFF: South

When I joined the ticket-holders line at the SF Silent Film Festival, it already wrapped around 3 sides of the block. There was a delay letting us into the theater, & a conscientious festival staffer walked the whole length of the line, explaining that there was a problem with the soundboard. We were there to see South, the 1919 documentary about Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated attempt to cross the Antarctic in 1914, filmed by crew member Frank Hurley. It's an amazing visual record, though awkwardly packaged as a feature film. It starts as a hearty adventure, with scenes featuring the expedition's eager sled dogs. It then becomes a survival story when pack ice destroys the ship, an event astonishingly captured on film. There is no more footage of the expedition past this point, so the film is instead padded with still photos, melodramatic drawings, & scenes of arctic wildlife, eventually turning into a silent version of March of the Penguins. It took me a while to start worrying about the dogs, which disappear without comment halfway through the film.

The festival presentation included actor Paul McGann, who at several points read from Shakleton's letters in his velvety English accent. Stephen Horne accompanied on piano, zither, flute, accordion & xylophone, sometimes managing to play 2 instruments at once. He provided appropriate mood music for each scene, as well as a tactful silence when the expedition's ship succumbs to the ice.

§ South (1919)
Directed by Frank Hurley
Accompanied by Stephen Horne on the grand piano, with Paul McGann narrating

San Francisco Silent Film Festival
Saturday, Jul 14, 2012 5:00 PM
Castro Theatre


Civic Center said...

We seem to be doing quite a tag team at this year's festival. I went to "The Canadian" which was showing right before "South" yesterday. Turned out to be an extraordinarily good movie, and Stephen Horne's accompaniment was delicate and perfect.

I think I'm going for "Stella Dallas" this afternoon. I'm in the mood for a Hollywood tearjerker.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I was at South and then Pandora's Box, which started almost 90 minutes late - don't these people have, you know, technical rehearsals??

That Pandora's Box is some movie and would make a great opera!

I noticed the same thing about the dogs and looked up their fate. They seem to have mostly died on the sledge trip from the ice floe to where the crew got into boats, though I have not figured out whether they died of overwork/exposure, were eaten, or were killed at the end of the trip. I did find that three dogs survived the whole trip, though I don't know which three.

Axel Feldheim said...

SFMike: At least we managed to cross paths just before the last show! You saw some great stuff!

Lisa: In my experience all the shows at the festival start late. They have to work hard to have logistical & technical problems at nearly every screening. They are lucky that the festival audiences are so easy-going & patient.

I saw South with a friend who had read Shackleton's account of the voyage, & he seemed to recall that all the dogs were killed & eaten on the ice floe, though some of the men naturally refused to eat them. But that's astounding if some dogs actually survived!

Yes, many of the tropes in Pandora's Box are vaguely familiar!

Axel Feldheim said...

BTW, the expedition also had a cat, but he did not survive the ice floe either.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thanks, Axel, and yes: they are lucky. SF Opera audiences are only that patient when the tenor is flying in on a private jet from NYC.

Axel Feldheim said...

Point taken. SFSFF audiences are a laid-back, happy bunch by comparison!