captained by frank worsley in 1914, the endurance set sail from london for the antarctic under the command of ernest shackleton, whose goal was to be the first man to cross the continent on foot. first his crew got stuck in ice. then the ice devoured their ship, slowly squeezing it into splintery smithereens. then they camped on ice floes while they waited for the antarctic winter to pass. when it did, they loaded what was left of their provisions into life boats — row boats! — and tried to get to real land, the kind that doesn’t melt and split underneath you. when they reached land they were out of food and still 800 miles away from genuine help of the life-saving kind. so shackleton pimped one of the lifeboats with canvas and sailed across those 800 miles to an island where he knew he could get help from whalers. only he landed on the wrong side of the island and had to climb 30 miles of antarctic mountains in order to get to the proper side. once there, he set out with some of the whalers to rescue his crew, but it took four months and several attempts before they could make it through the ice. when shackleton finally returned to his men, every single one of them was still alive. every. single. one.
the IMAX version of this story, narrated by kevin spacey and currently showing at the cincinnati museum center, is worth seeing. but if you like your documentaries to move you to tears, save your wallet and rent the 2002 film “the endurance: shackleton’s legendary antarctic expedition.” narrated by liam neeson, this longer version is full of eerie photos of the frozen ghost-ship and the lonely faces of desperate men, as well as more spirited film-clips of the crew playing winter games to distract themselves. their grimed-black faces are testament to their year of subsisting on rendered seal blubber and their eyes are crazed with the patience required to wait months to be rescued from a frozen wasteland where nobody except their most-likely-dead-at-sea leader knew they were waiting, slowly fighting fatigue and frostbite and never-ending hunger.
the best part of our friday night at the museum was not the imax double-feature (i recommend skipping “sea monsters,” which shannon described as edu-porn — which, now that i think about it, is way too enticing a description to fit the actual film), but the museum center itself. a beautiful deco landmark, the center looks like a magnificent 1930s radio rising out of the ground. inside, original wpa-project mosaic murals line the walls, celebrating all the very many white men (accompanied by two women, two small children, four native americans and two presumably free african americans) who designed and built this city. (bonus points for finding the two strike-a-pose early village people. who knew cincy was so cutting edge?) as we were leaving the theater were treated to the sonorous echoes of the museum’s e.m. skinner symphonic concert pipe organ‘s 4000 pipes. it’s trite and inadequate to say i’ve never heard anything like it, but it’s true.
we’ve asked for a family membership for christmas. at least two of us can’t wait to go back.