Dawson City: Frozen Time Screen 92 of 15 reviews

Dawson City: Frozen Time

2016

Dawson City: Frozen Time Poster
  • Morrison offers a fiercely precise and discerning look at movies themselves as embodiments of history. In the process, he retunes our relationship with the ubiquitous cinematic archive—with the fresh batch of images that get delivered through the electronic pipeline by the minute—and with the very question of what’s contained, or what’s hidden, in the seemingly smooth and seamless flow of a movie.

  • The best new movie in town and the best movie of the year thus far. Though its title would suggest a focus on the mysterious fate of a little-known city, Morrison’s latest output actually functions on several planes and tells many stories.

  • “Dawson City: Frozen Time” is a rather clunky and uninspiring title for a film that’s both revelatory and deeply fascinating. A more evocatively poetic title, say “Gold and Silver,” might suggest the extraordinary double helix of North American history and movie lore that Bill Morrison’s found-footage documentary contains.

  • The variety of action and modes seen in the newly discovered films, dramas with titles like “The Unpardonable Sin” and “A Stolen Paradise,” suggest a vast unknown film history. They also remind any film scholar that no matter how seemingly voluminous your knowledge of movie history, it is likely to be only a fraction of a fraction of the entirety. In any event, “Dawson City” now enters that time line as an instantaneously recognizable masterpiece.

  • It’s an orgy for film geeks and history jonesers, to be sure, and the revelation of how exactly the prints got waylaid and then buried in the permafrost, saved by virtue of Dawson City’s fading away in the twentieth century, proves a sweet narrative reward. There’s no doubt that, after two full hours of this immersion, you feel like you’ve been somewhere — if not the Yukon, then a deep past we all thought was gone.

  • The density of its scope is often exhilaratingly overwhelming, but this obsession with minutiae and detail is the film's subject... Holding the sprawling Frozen Time together is Morrison's brilliant editing, which compresses decades into single fades, locating recurring patterns of tragedy and irony, and the profound and obsessive formal power of the films discovered in Dawson City, which mix documentarian detail with an ecstatic sense of poetry.

  • All of it produces a vividness that surpasses the presentations and ambitions of, say, Morrison’s The Miners’ Hymns, in which the aesthetics of combining popular archival history and orchestral music risks feeling a little too neatly packaged. Here, aided by local historians, the filmmaker is firing on all cylinders, and, in a nice trick, tells a prevalent doc technique’s origin story by tracing the Ken Burns–style pan to an early National Film Board of Canada documentary on the Gold Rush.

  • Hundreds of silent films were discovered buried under an ice rink in the Yukon region of Canada, preserved by chance in the frozen earth. New York-based artist Bill Morrison has mined that footage for a gorgeous, haunting vision of a lost era, and the rise and wane of a gold rush town that drew would-be entrepreneurs (the Trump wealth origins are linked to a bar and whorehouse there).

  • Bill Morrison’s magnum opus, Dawson City: Frozen Time, had its South American premiere at FicValdivia, shown as part of a retrospective of Morrison’s films, and set a high tone for the festival. One would be hard-pressed to think of a film more haunting than Morrison’s chronicle of the discovery of nitrate prints on a construction site in the Yukon.

  • Dawson’s is not merely a story of entropy, but a bustling one of rapid growth and equally tumultuous decline, of evolution and rejuvenation amidst tragedy and the mass migrations of prospectors. Morrison sculpts the footage into a poetic portrait of a place as it endures the ravages of time while being equally seduced by the remarkable tale of the film reels and their subterranean survival.

  • Thrifty, inventive and witty, Dawson City draws the eye’s mind as much as the mind’s eye with its critical evocation of frontier days known from myriad Hollywood (mis)representations.

  • Morrison combines scenes and performances from films spanning the decades into a new narrative that helps open up the past. This imagery is tied to a dramatic score by Sigúr Ros collaborator Alex Somers. Like Morrison’s other work, Dawson City: Frozen Time also gives viewers the opportunity to luxuriate in the luster and sheen of nitrate film. Movies may have matured since 1906, but judging from the clips here, they are rarely as beautiful.

  • Each digression seems gratuitous and shapeless at first, but emerges as part of a grander design.

  • Best known for his 2002 compilation of decayed and corrupted celluloid, Decasia, Morrison is a far better archaeologist and archivist than he is a filmmaker... Though he aims to sculpt from them a moving narrative evoking the epochal cultural, social, and economic forces that swirled around the development of early cinema, Morrison instead presents his material through a series of ponderous cinematic devices, rendering history an inert mass.

  • Anyone who has tried writing about history can tell you that the hardest part is knowing where to stop. This is the problem with Bill Morrison’s intelligent but at times exhausting avant-garde documentary; at two hours, it’s just too long and deliberate for its own good. There comes a point when even the attention span of the niche audience that exists for a narration-less documentary about silent film begins to lag behind Morrison’s own interest in archival and historical minutiae.

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