DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (Bill Morrison). 120 minutes. Opens Friday (July 21). See listing. Rating: NNNN
There’s a certain grace to seeing Dawson City: Frozen Time at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. The theatre opened in 1913 as a silent movie house, so it’s likely that this isn’t the first time some of the images in Bill Morrison’s enthralling collage project have been on its screen.
Dawson City: Frozen Time is a hypnotic mashup of narrative cinema, filtered through Morrison’s fascination with the history of deteriorating celluloid.
Relying mainly on a cache of old, unstable nitrate films discovered beneath the eponymous Yukon gold-rush town, Morrison re-creates the history of both Dawson and cinema itself through images salvaged from those vintage reels, all set to a haunting, eerie score composed and performed by Sigur Rós collaborator Alex Somers.
It’s a compelling and demanding piece of work, and one that requires real commitment from the viewer – you have to surrender yourself to Morrison’s own fixations, and the ebb and flow of his attention from one historical storyline to another. (A digression on the early years of baseball goes from curious to essential, thanks to footage of the Chicago White Sox playing in the infamous 1919 World Series.)
If you enjoyed Morrison’s art collage Decasia you’ll have an idea of what to expect. And if you’re coming in cold, you’ll get to experience a new way of watching old images. It’s beautiful.