Dawson City: Frozen Time (USA/Canada 2017)
Dawson City: Frozen Time is a remarkable film cache, a documentary of sorts about hundreds of nitrate-era silent film from the end of the 19th- and beginning of the 20th centuries that were discovered in Dawson City, Canada, a place at the heart of the great Yukon Gold Rush (the most famous film of the era about this event was Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush). The cache of films was found during preliminary excavation for a construction project, and after explaining how the films were found, the doc goes on to explain – using captions, still photos and nitrate films – the history of the town, the history of the gold rush and how all these films came to be used as the infill for a swimming pool.
The history is remarkable, not least because when the word got about the discovery of large quantities of gold in the Yukon, a great avalanche of 100,000 people attempted to trek to the area – the film reminds us in grim fashion that 70,000 of them abandoned their journeys or died along the way.
An interesting historical fact related to contemporary American life: Fred Trump, the source of the original Trump fortune that our President is so well known for, made his fortune at this place during this time.
For reasons inexplicable to me is a 20 minute sojourn in the middle of the two-hour film that filters the labor histories of Canada and the United States through a Communist paradigm, something that got the steam coming out of my ears and acts as a larger distraction from the incredible story of the town and the cache. It is unclear, for example, whether or not the footage of Game 1 of the 1919 World Series (the one rocked by the Black Sox scandal that led to the banishment of eight players from baseball, including Shoeless Joe Jackson) was found in the cache or if it was simply shoehorned in to emphasize that Kenesaw Mountain Landis was not only anti-Labor, but probably a racist too.
That distraction aside, the film is otherwise fascinating for what it documents and the quiet, narrator-less manner by which is builds its history.
The film is currently available to rent on Amazon Instant Video or to FilmStruck subscribers.