Monday, June 5, 2017

Bill Morrison's most mainstream -- yes! -- endeavor yet, DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME

TrustMovies has loved (to some degree) every Bill Morrison movie he's seen so far, from Decasia and The Miners' Hymn to The Great Flood and Beyond Zero: 1914-1918. But in recommending any of them, as I have always done, I've also had to place a caveat along with that recommendation that the movies require some effort on the part of the viewer. They are not your standard sit-back-and-watch-that-superhero-in-action sort of thing. Now comes DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME, in which Morrison's love of everything from movies to decaying film, history, oddball facts, social justice and more all come to the fore and provide -- thanks to the crackerjack tale he has to tell -- that almost anybody with minor intelligence and love of movies and history can enjoy. Yes, this film is utterly accessible.

The story here -- which details the how, when, where and why of the discovery of what may very well be the largest single load of silent movies, long thought to have been destroyed, that has even been recovered -- is so terrific and well-told that it is hard to imagine Mr. Morrison (the filmmaker is shown at left) ever being able to top this film in terms of again finding a tale so filled with all the things he cares for most and is most adept at filming. His movie held me in thrall from its first frame throughout its complete two-hour running time.

Dawson City tackles everything from the Klondike Gold Rush to some great old silent movies and features everyone from Charlie Chaplin to an honest-to-god avalanche that looks more real and shocking than anything our special effects wizards have put together in recent times. We even get a sneak peek at how the Trump family's (yes, sleazy Donald's) fortune actually began -- with the combo hotel, restaurant and whorehouse shown below.

Once gold was discovered, we see how the newly minted mining town of Dawson City rose from what was formerly a perfectly lovely village of an indigenous Canadian Indian tribe that had occupied the area for ages.

Morrison dots his movie with lots of fascinating history and anecdote, along with the inter-cutting of those silent movies (as above and below) right into his film in order to demonstrate salients points along the way. This is an inspired, charming, often funny and always on-target means of reminding us of the importance of both history and film and how well they can and should complement each other.

Needless to say, almost all of these are not silent movie scenes that we've viewed previously anywhere else because, so far as any of us knew, all this had been missing or destroyed. Along the way see view footage of everything from Palestine (in 1907!) to the infamous Black Sox Baseball Scandal, as well as wonderfully detailed history of the odd up-and-down fortunes of Dawson City itself.

With the exception of the film's first few minutes, and then at around the hour-and-three-quarters point, we get something unusual from a Morrison movie: verbal narration. The remainder is, as usual, told us via visuals, music (by Alex Somers and often exceptionally beautiful) and an excellent written narration, all of which somehow seems exactly the right way to unfold this remarkable story.

Toward its end the movie even turns into to a bit of a "love story," and the finale features a montage of a host of water-damaged, decaying film that Morrison so loves and when used in this way produces its own very special "special effects." Over time, I think I am beginning to love and appreciate the strange beauty of this decay, almost as much as does Morrsion. Maybe you will, too.

Meanwhile, the movie will make you most grateful that this treasure trove of film was buried in the cold, preserving climate of the Yukon. The reason, as we learn, was that Dawson City was the last stop on the circuit of towns that played these films, and the movie companies did not want to pay the freight charges to ship their films back. Thank god that last stop was not somewhere down here in hot-weather Florida.

From Kino Lorber, Dawson City: Frozen Time opens this coming Friday, June 9, in New York City (at the IFC Center) and on June 16 in Chicago (at the Gene Siskel Film Center,) Los Angeles (at the Landmark NuArt) and San Diego (at the Digital Gym). To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and then scroll down.

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