Review: Andrew Gourlay & CUCO – ‘The Epic of Everest’

Arjun Sajip 24 November 2013

Chomolungma – Sherpa for ‘Goddess Mother of the World’ – is 29,000 feet high and rising. When George Mallory (an ex-Magdalene Historian, and friends with Rupert Brooke and John Maynard Keynes) and Andrew Irvine (who’d studied at the Other Place) embarked on their expedition up Everest in 1924, they had no idea that the film of their efforts would resemble Werner Herzog’s wettest dream. Neither did they know that said film would, nine decades later, be burnished with a mesmerising score, courtesy of CUCO.

Mallory was 37 at the time; Irvine 22. They were seen as martyrs, human sacrifices to Mother Nature; their deaths on the North Face of the world’s highest mountain mourned as national tragedies. And rightly so. The Epic of Everest, beautifully photographed by Captain John Noel, is a fitting tribute, and, thanks in large part to the score, manages to be charming and regally epic simultaneously.

Somehow, the music – its epic feel, its sincerity and commitment, its revelry in the excitement of the expedition – helps mitigate some of the film’s more obvious shortcomings, such as its colonialist condescension to the Sherpa and its somewhat hyperbolic intertitles. The score, with its excerpts from well-known pieces of classical music, actually seems to historicise the film.

It’s the images that stick in the mind, but the feeling one gets while hearing the live accompaniment – the exhilaration, the tension and release, the added sensory connection with the visuals – is intense. Kudos to the orchestra, and to conductor Andrew Gourlay, who inhabited the music so magnetically that he earned extra-loud applause at the end. A great evening.