The Epic of Everest is a 1924 film by Captain John Noel that documents the ill-fated attempt by explorers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest. Mallory's body was recovered in 1999, Irvine's never was -- and no one knows if they ever made it to the top. The British Film Institute restored the original film and commissioned a score from composer Simon Fisher Turner. Along with an esteemed body of work for films by Derek Jarman and Mike Hodges, he had scored a previous Institute project, The Great White Silence, about Captain John Smith's disastrous expedition to the South Pole. While there have been many (rightful) critiques of Noel's film as essentially an homage to British colonialism, Turner's score balances the perspective with a thoughtful interpretation that doesn't attempt to belie the criticism, but highlight the humanity -- all of it, from the British to the Sherpa and Nepalese and Tibetans -- in the images themselves. Thoroughly modern yet timeless, he melds the synthetic to the natural. Cosey Fanni Tutti's trumpet, Asaf Sirkis' percussion, Peter Gregson's cello, voices and instruments from Nepalese father and daughter Madan and Ruby Thapa, and assistance from other musicians highlight, accent, and frame Turner's vision. There are rumbling, pulsing sine waves, declamatory and/or inquisitive horns, ghostly synths, bells and chimes, the howling wind, chanting, droning Tibetan monks, sparse ambient textures, sonically altered acoustic piano, harp, lutes, bells, and much more, all delivered with taste and discipline. The possibilities for this soundtrack being either a mush of culturally generic new age atmospherics or overblown dramatic bombast were ample. But Turner nevers succumbs. Over 70 minutes and 16 cues he painstakingly places sounds in direct, interdependent relation to one another. The approach feels both deliberate and, astonishingly, organic. As an accompaniment to Noel's images, these compositions and sonic textures reveal humanity's temptation, conceit, and ultimate futility in attempting to conquer the forbidding, isolated, and regionally revered (much as it is today) mountain -- at least at that historical juncture -- which serves as an allegory in the present day. Taken as a body of music, The Epic of Everest is an eerie, sensually arresting listening experience. It is often fraught with understated yet taut dynamic tension but simultaneously shrouded in spectral, almost impenetrable mystery, much like the shadow of Everest itself.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
|Epic of Everest|