The Epic of Everest

The Epic of Everest ★★★★

"Into the heart of the pure blue ice, rare, cold, beautiful, lonely - Into a fairyland of ice."

John Noel's hypnotic film about the attempt by George Mallory and Sandy Irvine to climb Everest is more akin to an art installation than a documentary, with its Nepalese influenced new score (by Simon Fisher Turner), wordy intertitle slides, and tinted footage of the then-unspoilt vistas across Tibet.

The film looks sumptuous, and we are simply observers in what eventually becomes an obvious tragedy (the explorers never returned from their climb, and evidence may suggest that they never reached the top). Whether this was simply bad luck and poor preparation, or some breach of an ancient prophecy that claimed Everest as sacred and its summit denied to man, is left an open question by this film.

For an accurate (if slightly patronising) view of Tibetan life in the 1920s, this film is very valuable indeed, and it represents a world now long departed. The mountains themselves are forbidding and rule over all, and in their shadow Mallory and Irvine are seen largely as little, insignificant dots; human, yes, but of no consequence, although we do get a disturbingly cheery caption about young Irvine at 22 'having no idea in two weeks he would be dead'.

Inspired by Ponting's 'The Great White Silence', also released in 1924, and looking at the adventures of Captain Scott and his team; both films present adventurous attempts to conquer natural obstacles. Both are well worth seeing, as is Frank Hurley's South (1919), looking at Shackleton's attempt to reach the South Pole.

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