(director/cinematographer: Frank Hurley; music: Neil Brand (piano score added to the DVD); cast: Ernest Shackleton ( Leader of the Expedition), Captain F. Worsley (Captain of the Endurance), Lieutenant J. Stenhouse (Captain of the Aurora), Captain L. Hussey (Meteorologist), Dr. McIlroy (Head of Scientific Staff), Mr. Wordie (Head of Scientific Staff), Tom Crean (Crewman); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; Milestone Films; 1919-UK-silent)

“Probably the greatest documentary survival film ever made.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

South is the 1999 restored by the British Film Institute version of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 28-member crew’s doomed expedition on the ship called the Endurance, from 1914-17, to Antarctica. Shackleton had gone to Antarctica twice before the Endurance story. First (1901-1904) as a member of the Robert F. Scott expedition from which he returned home an invalid in 1903. Then he commanded an expedition (1907-1909) on which they ascended Mt. Erebus and located the South Pole. (They crossed the plateau within 100 miles of it). For this he was knighted in 1909.

This mission started from Buenos Aires as The Endurance campaign (1914) set out planning to enter the Weddell Sea and cross overland to the Ross Sea – some 2000 miles. The sea froze over as they were anchored in the Weddell Sea and pressure of the expanding ice crushed the ship (1915). No icebergs in the usual sense except as ice pressed inand rose up around the ship. It ended with The Endurance unable to reach the South Pole after being stuck in the frozen sea for nine months, as the crew tried desperately to cut a path to free it only to watch it slowly get crushed and sink into the ocean. Shackleton and five others took one of the lifeboats and journeyed 850 miles to South Georgia Island to get help while the 22 men and 70 dogs wait while stranded on Elephant Island. In their effort Shackleton had to scale a glacier on South Georgia Island (recorded on film) in order to reach the inhabited far shore. His men being marooned for nearly two-years with the destroyed ship were all presumed dead, but instead managed to survive. Remarkably, there were no casualties. Shackleton eventually received a hero’s welcome on his return to England.

The photography by the Australian Frank Hurley is truly amazing, as that art form was in its infancy and his survival footage seems to be the only thing the expedition was able to accomplish on their painful mission. Crewman Hurley stashed the undeveloped film in snowdrifts for safekeeping and most of it survived, including memorable shots of crew members staking tents on moving ice floes and photographs of the ship as it was being destroyed by the icebergs over the nine month period. There was also the unforgettable photography of the Endurance taken at night, with the help of 20 flash bulbs, which made it look eerie like a ghost ship. This is probably the greatest documentary survival film ever made not because of its story or photography, but because the bravery of the men as recorded is undeniable.

South (1920)