'Oh, wait, let me guess' the other would say, either wearily or sarcastically '- are you going to see that movie about the airship? And the Antarctic?'
'Um yes you're half right but actually it's the Arctic not the antarctic so yeah, but yeah that's what I'm doing, cool eh?'
It is a constant source of amazement to me that people continue to talk to me at all, but I suppose the conventions of politeness are still strong in our society. Lucky!
The Airship Norge: exploration in style. From the NZFF website
So if you're reading this you probably already know about the film I suppose, because no doubt I have bored you on the subject in real life, but here's the thing: It was even better than I thought it would be, and I felt even more awesome after seeing it than I thought I would. And I thought it would make me feel pretty amazingly ace, so it just goes to show that I still have a long way to go when it comes to accurately predicting how the decisions I make are going to make me feel in the future.
Obviously this movie was so great partly becuase of the whole polar travel thing and partly because of the whole airship thing. Those things are pretty much givens, so I don't need to talk about them all that much except to observe that it is one of life's tragedies that we don't use airships as much as we used to, and at some stage I'd like to look into this to find out why. My guess is that there really is no good reason and all it will take is a decently-funded advertising campaign and a few well-chosen celebrity endorsements (Johnny Depp, H.M. Sir Prince Charles, Cory Doctorow) to shift public opinion slightly and re-introduce the Golden Age Of The Airship. Here's hoping!
Polar travel and slow-motion airship wrangling aside, the real star of this movie was of course Amundsen's nose. As well as a steely resolve, an iron will, and a salutary ability to learn the sledging secrets of the Eskimos in only two and a half winters, Amundsen was possessed of one of those rare noses that only truly remarkable individuals may own: the kind that starts off aquiline and just keeps on growing. Julius Caesar had one; Buster Keaton had one, the old guy who sits in the corner of your RSA has one. Like his stature in the Norwegian national psyche, Amundsen’s nose was by the latter part of his life truly titanic, and it broke his path through the world like the bow of an ice-hardened whaling ship. In this film we see his nose as it points resolutely out the window of the airship while the rest of him pets a jolly little terrier, we see it feted through the streets of Oslo, we see it as it calmly sniffs his in-flight mug of warm schnapps and finds it good. Truly an amazing nose, and the world became a poorer place when it led Amundsen to his icy doom (not pictured).
This bust of Amundsen by Arne Vieglend really does justice to the nose.
It's from the Caterbury Museum; you must go and see it if you're nearby.
photo from nzmuseums.co.nz
As an audience, we were expecting the nose, and Amundsen conniseurs will have left the cinema satisfied in this regard. What we were not expecting (at least those of us weren't whose grasp, like my own, of European history is risible at best) was that one of the other stars of this show would be Uncle Mussolini and his merry band of Fascists. That's right, you remember - that lot were well at it by 1925, throwing around their weight and marching on Rome, parading about the place in their pretty frocks. Because say what you like about the Fascists - and I wouldn't for a moment argue that Il Duce should not have been hung by his heels from a power pole - but by god they knew how to dress, and when they wanted to celebrate a thing they really put on a show. A real pity about everything else, obviously, but from a cinematic point of view these guys really had it going on. It was an Italian airship, apparently (students of polar history will have known that already, of course), so it's quite natural that Mussolini was all over it from a propoganda point of view, and he personally pinned a medal on the chest of Umberto Nobile, the Italian designer and pilot of the airship, when they returned from their - spoiler alert! - successful flight over the North Pole.
Umbero Nobile with his dog Titania. Titania, along with a polar bear, a walrus, and several reindeer, was the real star of the show. Of these, only Titania was not hunted for sport by the plucky adventurers. Photo from wikimedia commons, original in the Library Of Congress
The reaction of the Norwegians was much more spontaneous, of course. Fewer banners, for one thing, uniforms less snappy but still very much a la mode (I miss the twenties, I really do - we all dressed so optimistically) but the main difference was that instead of pinning stuffy medals on his chest (and I suppose this is illustrative in a broader sense of the differing approaches of fascists and constitutional monarchists) the crowd carried Amundsen shoulder high through the streets of Oslo. Soulder high - why don't we do that any more? One hears about it, but I don't believe I've seen it done before. It looks delightfully undignified as a matter of fact, whilst still being the utmost sign of respect that a person can be accorded by a baying, cheering, constitutionally monarchist mob. Let's do that to somebody, I thought immediately - but who? Now that we have reached all available poles of the earth by every concievable means of transport, I suppose we don't have any reason to bear people shoulder high any more. Oh well.
Amundsen's nose after its historic flight.
For extra points, as if extra points were needed, the film also had a live piano score, played by the inimitable and wonderfully monikered Nikau Palm. I have droned on at great length in the past about the joys of cinema accompanied by live music, and all I will say about the piano accompaniment in this case is that if you're not going to go all out and use a theatre organ, which would be my go-to plan A, then playing variations on 'those magnificent men in their flying machines' on a grand piano will do just fine. I was thrilled. I actually spent a good part of the film leaning forward in my seat, grinning like a seal.
To complete this picture of cinematic excellence, the final detail, the rug that tied the room together if you like: there was a lovely man on the stage with a script and a microphone and I immediately wanted to make friends with him, purely because he was Danish and I could listen to him talk all night and half the day. Am I normal? I like to think I am. Anyway, his job was to translate the title cards, live for our edification. This film was made in the twenties - we must understand that the whole Norge enterprise was partly geared towards flying an airship over the pole, but also substantially focused on filming an airship being flown over the pole. That's one of the things that so thrills me about the heroic age of polar exploration; these guys had media strategies that make Alistair Campbell look like a dabbling amateur. So the original movie was produced in about 1927 I think, in that magical era before cinema was ruined by the addition of soundtracks: hence the title cards. Of couse, the title cards were in Norwegian, so they got this wonderful Danish fellow, whom I failed to befriend, to translate them into English for the monlingual riff-raff in the cheap seats.
This is Amundsen's nose when he was younger. Still impressive, but it just got better and better.
source: wikimedia commons
What a combination! Snappy uniforms, graceful airships, swaggering noses, a romanically tinkling piano and Dane with a voice like treacle. If you ever get a chance to see this film, you must grab it with both hands, because you will not be sorry if your interests include airships and polar adventure, and if they don't then they should. Up the Norwegians! Shame about the Fascists! The future belongs to the Airship!