Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cue the Hubris

In her latest discovery, archivist Amanda Emily has stumbled upon two of my passions: retro tech and vexed exploration. Indulge me, won't you?

I don't know squat about cameraman Lawrence Darmour, but that cat on the left is none other than Frederick A. Cook, one of the most polemic figures of polar pursuit. As a young surgeon, Cook distinguished himself on Robert Peary's 1891 expedition to North Greenland. From there he launched his own forays into reconnaissance, racing Peary and others to the few blank spots left on 19th Century globes. Trouble was, Cook was one sloppy documentarist. That, or he was a stone cold liar, for his claims of scaling Mt. McKinley and locating the North Pole have long been thought to be fraudulent. Locked in a lifelong battle with his rival pioneer Peary, Dr. Cook yearned for glacial immortality. Instead he forged a new kind of infamy; a hearty soul whose thirst for adventure and unquenchable ego overshadowed his earlier feats. If the above photo was indeed taken in 1909, it captured an explorer in the throes of controversy. Before the year was out, would see his cherished reputation as Explorer with Capitol "E" dashed upon the rocks of ostentation. A decade and a half later, he would map the interior of a prison cell, convicted of defrauding oil investors in Texas. All in all, a spectacular fall from self-appointed grace...

I've often thought that Dr. Frederick Cook's sordid life story would make one hell of a cinematic venture. Then again, the annals of Polar exploration are rife with heroes, cads and villains. Think sweeping vistas, epics of deprivation, ill-equipped patricians in bad mustaches dying slowly from exposure on drifting ice floes. Even within our most distant history, lies the promise of endless blockbusters. Meanwhile, Hollywood greenlights a remake of Get Smart. Maybe that's why I haven't joined Netflix yet.

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