This recent DVD release is a fascinating insight into the remote world
of Antarctic exploration. Told through the medium of music, art and
documentary via three separate programmes, the awesome beauty of what
must be Earth's most inhospitable continent is revealed in all its glory.
In 1948 Ralph Vaughn Williams wrote the film score to the film Scott
of the Antarctic, and subsequently went on to expanded the work
into a full symphony that he eventually completed in 1952. And whereas
Vaughn Williams' original score was conceived to accompany and compliment
a film, we now come full circle with the Sinfonia Antartica that
fuses breathtaking footage as a pictorial commentary to what is unquestionably
one of Vaughn Williams' most emotive compositions.
The music breathes real life into the majesty conjured up by the visual
impact of the pictures, effortlessly transporting the viewer to a continent
that could plausibly be another planet, so stark and unending is the
landscape that unfolds before you. With the use of techniques such as
time lapse filming and superimposed shots of historic images of explorers,
this is an emotional marrying of music and video that captures the struggle
and challenge of what is tellingly described in the documentary that
follows it as 'the last continent'. Journey through blizzards, across
ice flows and under water with stunning modern filming techniques, while
still retaining the memory of Shackleton through rare historic footage.
And all the time Vaughgn Williams' music carries your emotions along,
with the result that you could almost imagine what it must have been
like to battle with such an environment. Almost.
The documentary Icebound, made in 1994 and subtitled '100 Years
of Antarctic Discovery' details the story of those who have opened up
Antarctica despite unbelievable hardships. Amundsen, Scott, Fuchs, Shackleton,
Hillary and others - triumphant and desperate in equal measures, one
can only have the greatest admiration for these extraordinary men who
took on this frozen desert. Beautiful camera work and a narration that
holds the interest to the end, this is a well executed documentary that
boasts interviews with some of the leading names of the Antarctic.
The Unframed Continent
Finally, we come to The Unframed Continent, giving a brief historic
overview of art in Antarctica. Three artists travel across Antarctica
with the aim of producing a book of words and images inspired by Antarctica.
The photography is stunning and try's to convey how phenomenally inspiring
Antarctica is for artists, and one isn't oblivious as to how privileged
these men are. The landscapes would make any artists' mouth water -
although aspects of the dialogue were irritating. They were in search
of the evocative, emotional and spiritual. It didn't need annoying background
music to promote these states. A simple verbal response would have done
Our three artists are Chris, an agoraphobic cigar-smoking poet; Nigel,
a vertigo suffering painter and poet; and Bill, another poet with a
sense of irony. Chris searches for the hidden meanings of the scientist's
quest for data and sees Antarctica as 'a dwelling place of the spirit'.
Nigel is a naive painter who questions the presence of people in Antarctica
and he uses his work to rewrite and rearrange history. I initially took
a dislike to his work, thinking it too simplistic in content and form.
However, my opinion changed, especially when seeing his work collectively,
realising how much more dynamic and honest his work actually is. Meanwhile,
Bill is inspired by language and finds links with poetry and scientific
language and turns to rhyme - something he doesn't normally do. He is
inspired by the visitor's book in Shackleton's hut, which is full of
'ironic fatuous comments'. Bill is himself ironic, dry and erudite.
Their journey takes them to Shackleton's hut, across the sea ice to
a scientific base, Scott's hut, on to Antarctica's largest base, then
Hillary's hut on the last leg of their journey. After which they had
24 hours to produce a book of which there are 22 copies entitled Homelight.
DVD Special Features
· Lonely Planet travel guide
· Reflections of Antarctica
· Antarctica Facts
· Websites on Antarctica
DVD published by Natural History New Zealand
Limited. Copies of Sinfonia Antarctica may be ordered direct
from the publisher.
© Tony Richard Gardner 2003