Tony Pipolo at Artforum:
BILL MORRISON’S DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME is 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, all of which spring from the accidental discovery in 1978 of hundreds of 35-mm film reels, decades after they served as landfill over a subarctic swimming pool: yet another bizarre reason that 75 percent of all silent films are lost.
In fact, these films were buried for a number of reasons. Two years past their initial release, they were no longer marketable to their distributors and were hazardous to store. Like all silent films they had a nitrate base and were highly flammable, which accounts for why hundreds had already been dumped in the Yukon River—a fact that makes the 372 films unearthed in 1978 a drop in the bucket. In addition, the city also wanted to provide a better ice rink for hockey games.
Less than two hundred miles from the Arctic Circle, Dawson became the center of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896–97, which drew 100,000 prospectors to the region—forcing out the indigenous people that lived there for millennia—until the craze shifted to Alaska in 1899, taking with it a quarter of Dawson’s population. The town’s rise and fall is at the heart of Morrison’s movie, but even while its importance faded, it unsuspectingly harbored another gold mine and another story—as a site where 372 films were unwittingly preserved from the fire, neglect, and nitrate decay that destroyed all other copies.