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DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME

Dawson City: Frozen Time tells two stories, both fascinating. The first has to do with the accidental discovery of 35mm film reels buried in the Yukon over one hundred years ago and miraculously preserved by the permafrost. The second is the incredible boom-and-bust-and-boom-and-bust saga of Dawson City itself, where the movies were discovered. Filmmaker Bill Morrison, who has made dramatic use of decaying silent footage before (in such features as Decasia) has hit the bull’s-eye here, as his two narratives fold together in serendipitous fashion.

The films resided in Dawson City, Canada for the same reason that long-lost American films were discovered in New Zealand several years ago: it didn’t pay to ship the prints back to their distributors, as this was the last stop on their theatrical run. They were routinely destroyed, by setting them on fire or dumping them in the water. (The Klondike and Yukon rivers meet at Dawson City.) In this case, 500 films were moved to the local hockey rink and buried underground. Construction of a new recreation center in 1978 revealed the cache when bulldozers started digging. The amazing “find” became a major news story at the time.

Then there is the evolution of Dawson City, a historic hunting and fishing ground for a First Nation tribe. They were peremptorily moved when gold was discovered and a major gold rush resulted in 1896-98, bringing 100,000 would-be prospectors to the town. With an overnight population came all the benefits and ills of civilization, including movie theaters, and a motley collection of fortune-seekers including newsboy Sid Grauman and a hotelier named Fred Trump.

I saw this film a few weeks ago and can’t stop thinking about it; in fact, I want to watch it again to fully digest everything it has to tell me. Morrison’s purposeful editing and story sense—using archival photos and newspaper clippings, actuality footage and scenes from dramatic films as well—make Frozen Time a mesmerizing tale. Alex Somers’ score suits the material to a T.

Dawson City: Frozen Time opens today at Landmark’s NuArt Theatre in Los Angeles, the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and Digital Gym in San Diego. To learn more and see when it may be playing near you, click HERE

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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