Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016) – reviewed by George

This documentary begins in Dawson City at the Palace Grand Theater where some early movies (The Dawson Find) were about to be shown. Then writing appears on screen.
“Fifteen months earlier a construction crew was building a new recreation center behind Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall.
Septic System: Hillside Installation (1976)
Frank Barrett was a Pentecostal minister who owned and operated the back hoe.
He was a also a city alderman.
During excavation, Frank uncovered numerous reels of motion picture film. He halted construction until the site could be properly investigated.”
Next an interview with Michael Gates and his wife Kathy Jones-Gates. He was Curator of Collections for Parks Canada 1978-1996, and she was Director of the Dawson Museum 1978-1996. Michael tells about a day in 1978 when an archeologist from Winnipeg stopped by to tell him that at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s they were digging up some stuff and he should take a look. Michael found metal boxes of reels of film, reels just lying about, and lengths of film lying around loose. His first thought was to test it to see if it was old nitrate stock (a big clue to its age). So he put a match to a bit of film and it burned fiercely. Safety stock would have curled up with no flame, and safety stock replaced nitrate in 1949, and it’s estimated that 75% of all silent films have been lost. All the more reason to cherish what we still have. Very interesting items about film are given here, but my space is limited. As is my patience.
There’s a long segment about the history of Dawson and the Gold Rush in general, and one old still shows the origin of the Trump family fortune: The Arctic Hotel and Restaurant. So: lots of anecdotes when I wanted info about the films that were found. Although there was one bit I really liked: when people arrived and were told that no more claims were available, they learned to “mine the miners”. Saloons, casinos, dance halls, and theaters were hastily built on Front Street, and behind Front was Paradise Alley – use your imagination. And there’s a note about famous people who came out of the Gold Rush, like Sid Grauman and Alex Pantages.
Interesting, but so leisurely.
Using film and stills from The Dawson Find we also see some history of the larger world: The Colorado National Guard firing on striking miners there and killing wives and children as well, the White Sox Scandal, which seems tame in this list, and a bomber on Wall Street who killed 38 people. Proving there really is nothing new under the sun.
So how did so much movie material end up in Dawson City? Dawson was the end of a distribution line, which shipped movies from one town to another. Dawson’s end of the line status meant that the movies they received were already two to three years old, and distributors didn’t want the cost of having outdated material retuned, so they effectively said, “Keep ’em!”
Now: despite the interesting stuff you see and learn, you should know that this is the slowest movie in the history of the world. My hair turned grey, fell out, and grew back in during the two hours of this film, which felt like six. There are two things wrong. First, the film desperately needs a narrator. And second, with no one to talk us through it, the information we need is shown printed out on the screen in the smallest font they could possibly find. It is absurdly small. I do not like to sit close to the screen, and so as material was shown I had to keep pausing the film and pausing the film every time words appeared, and then walk closer to the screen to read them.. No wonder it seemed three times longer than it was!
So if you want to see this truly remarkable film, at least you know what to expect (and where to sit).
Question: Do you think I should have my glasses checked?
Written and Directed by Bill Morrison.

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