Flight of the Airship Norge over the Arctic Ocean

July 31, 2012 at 8:43 am | Posted in Documentary Review, Film Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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The 41st Wellington Film Festival is on; I went to “Flight of the Airship Norge over the Arctic Ocean” – Luftskibit Norge’s flugt over Polhavet.

This was silent black-&-white documentary movie made in 1926 of Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellswort and Umberto Nobile’s flight in the airship Norge from King’s Bay (Ny-Alesun) on the island of Spitzbergen over the North Pole to Teller Alaska, using footage shot by the expedition – including footage from the flight itself.

This was the only 35mm film shown at the Festival; and it used the only print in the world – by kind permission of The National Library of Norway (Nasjonalbiblioteket). Who are most generous in letting such an excellent print out of their care. The film was continuously accompanied by a piano – played by Nikau Palm; and the norwegian titles read out by a volunteer from the local Norwegian community. Both did very well – considering the showing lasted 99 minutes!

By modern standards the pace was a bit slow. But it was just fascinating – it was like going back in time to see how people lived in 1926. We saw not just the leaders of the expedition but the many men (and women) involved.

The expedition was like something out of an modern Norse saga. Sixteen adventurers set out in a frail airship to embark on a 46 hour flight from King’s Bay to Teller via the North Pole. We see the careful preparation – a hallmark of Amundsen was his preparation – a temporary airship hanger is built at King’s Bay, out of thousands of metres of wood and square metres of canvas. An entire base in the snowscape must first be established. We see the flight and the subsequent crash landing in Teller. Then the crew is feted everywhere they go – as they journey back to Norway.

The film also shows Admiral Byrd’s flight to the Pole – just days before Amundsen sets off. [There is controversy as to whether Byrd actually reached the Pole or not.]

The film also exhibits two techniques of film making: special graphical effects and editing footage to portray another meaning. An example of the first is the building and progression of the hanger is done by a series of drawings progressively showing more and more of the vast wooden frame walls. An examples of clever editing is the re-use of the same sequence taken from airship cupola to portray different stages of the flight.

I am very glad I went. I got to go back in time in two ways: the film itself, and the experience of a live piano and ‘talker’.

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