#50. The Great White Silence (1924)
Directed by: Herbert Ponting
Written by: Herbert Ponting
Starring: Robert Falcon Scott
Herbert Ponting’s pioneering documentary about Antarctica is definitely the newest addition to my list of favorite films, and for good reason. The Great White Silence tells the story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated voyage to Antarctica, where the Captain and four crewmates would die of exposure. Herbert Ponting documented much of the journey to Antarctica, up to the point of Captain Scott and his crew leaving to reach the South Pole in order to beat the Norwegian team attempting to do the same. The events that take place on the voyage to the South Pole are told through still photographs and title cards, as Herbert Ponting was left with the rest of the crew at base camp. The film tells the tragic story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his crew with the utmost respect, even without any real visual support – the final act of the film features some of the most heartbreaking storytelling I’ve ever seen in a documentary. The Great White Silence became one of the first documentaries to capture penguins, seals, and killer whales on camera in their natural habitats, and the first to shoot the unlivable continent of celluloid. Ponting also employs the use of comedy and wit in his title cards, telling the story of the journey in a playful, fun way in order to hook audiences immediately. The tonal shift in the final act of the film is fitting and classy, rather than jarring or unfitting – it works perfectly in telling the story of the Terra Nova expedition. The Great White Silence’s breakneck pacing and playful attitude makes it truly stand out among other classic documentaries, making it stand out among its peers. It’s a truly special film in its epic scope and Ponting’s eye for storytelling, and one of the most unique documentary films ever made. To read my full thoughts about The Great White Silence, check out my Doctober review of the film here.