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Striking document of 1924 attempt to climb Mount Everest has been restored by the British Film Institute

Striking document of 1924 attempt to climb Mount Everest has been restored by the British Film Institute

THE EPIC OF EVEREST (Captain John Noel, 1924)
Nitehawk Cinema
136 Metropolitan Ave. between Berry St. & Wythe Ave.
Saturday, June 13, and Sunday, June 14, 12 noon

In 1924, two British men, among the most famous mountaineers of their time, George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, set out with a large team to climb to the summit of Everest. Their amazing journey was documented by Captain John Noel, who used a hand-cranked camera with an impressive telephoto lens and sent the footage via yak to a lab in Darjeeling to be developed. The resulting black-and-white film, The Epic of Everest, is a poetic document of the third attempt to scale Everest, a mountain the Tibetans called “Chomo-Lung-Ma,” or Goddess Mother of the World. The eighty-seven-minute silent film has been digitally restored by the British Film Institute in a beautiful version that made its New York premiere last fall at the Rubin Museum and next will be shown June 13-14 at the Nitehawk Cinema as part of its ongoing Brunch Screenings series. The Epic of Everest, which is also ethnographically important for its (at times ethnocentric) depiction of local Tibetan culture, includes several scenes of Mount Everest tinted in blue, red, and violet; the ice-blue Fairyland section is especially breathtaking. Meanwhile, the restored intertitles display such dramatic text as “There is nowhere here any trace of life or man. It is a glimpse into a world that knows him not. Grand, solemn, unutterably lonely, the Rongbuk Glacier of Everest reveals itself.” and “Nor can one wonder at the invention that has clothed this extraordinary peak with a sacred character. What a terrifying thing it is! What an immensity of size, height and power it possesses!”

Irvine and Mallory — the latter famously answered “Because it’s there” when asked why he wanted to climb Everest — are joined by Sherpas and donkeys; mountaineer and artist Howard Somervell, who is seen smoking a pipe while sketching in his notebook; Alpine climbers John de Vars Hazard and Edward Norton; mountaineer Geoffrey Bruce, who is described as “the Expedition’s right hand man”; and geologist Noel Odell as they attempt to do what no human had done before. The 4K restoration, done in collaboration with Noel’s daughter, Sandra, also features a haunting new score by Simon Fisher Turner that incorporates both Western and Nepalese sounds. The Epic of Everest is particularly fascinating when compared to such recent mountaineering adventures as K2: Siren of the Himalayas, revealing how little has changed, except technology, as fearless men and women seek to climb toward the heavens.

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