Dawson City: Frozen Time (NR)
He opens with a simple explanation of how nitrate was invented -- as an explosive -- and how film stock’s ridiculously fiery temperament has in its way shaped film history. Nitrate served as the art form’s suicidal imp, immolating one warehouse or theater after another and almost ensuring that film would never survive its own instability. The story moves to a massive cache of early–20th century films uncovered in the 1970s in Dawson City, Alaska, which allows Morrison to launch into a leisurely portrait of the Yukon Gold Rush, Dawson City’s origins and growth (where, among a great many others, Fred Trump began his fortune, with a brothel), and so on.
The Dawson City footage — more than 370 films, some shot in the Yukon, some simply shipped in -- zips by in bullet-like blips, and a lot of it isn't even decayed. We see what Dawsonites saw, on the frozen edge of a frontier: local prospector dramas as well as imported travelogues, serials, melodramas, newsreels and nature studies. In all cases, the Dawson City prints are the only copies of these films to have survived. It's an orgy for film geeks and history jonesers.