Dawson City: Frozen Time (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

“Well-researched, well-presented, “Dawson City: Frozen Time” is a fantastic documentary from Bill Morrison and a true masterpiece!

Images courtesy of © 2017 Hypnotic Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Dawson City: Frozen Time


DURATION: 120 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), English 5.1 Surround, B&W and Color

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: October 31, 2017

Directed by Bill Morrison

Written by Bill Morrison

Cinematography by Raoul Cotard

Produced by Madeleine Molyneaux, Bill Morrison 

Assistant Producer: Paul Gordon

Music by Alex Somers

Edited by Bill Morrison


Bill Morrison

Kathy Jones-Gates

Michael Gates

Sam Kula

Bill O’Farrell

Chris “Mad Dog” Russo

A thrilling adventure through American history, Dawson City: Frozen Time pieces together the bizarre true story of a collection of some 500 silent films. Dating from the 1910s and 20s, they were lost for over 50 years until being discovered buried in a subarctic swimming pool deep in the Yukon Territory in 1978.
Director Bill Morrison (Decasia) uses this extraordinary footage as a conduit to explore the complicated past of Dawson City, a Canadian gold rush town and First Nation hunting camp that was transformed and displaced. Dawson City: Frozen Time is a triumphant work of art that chronicles the life cycle of a singular film collection through its exile, burial, rediscovery, and salvation, discovering another world in the process.

For many silent film fans, before Hollywood, it was known that Fort Lee, New Jersey was once the motion picture capital during the early 1900’s and it is known that 75% of all silent films were destroyed unfortunately by improper storage and the combustible nitrate film.

But how is it that 533 silent film reels were discovered in Dawson City, a town in northern Yukon (Canada) by a construction worker in 1978.

This would be the basis of “Dawson City: Frozen Time” directed by Bill Morrison, who would construct a timeline of Dawson and show its history through photos and also show a timeline of what was going on in America/Canada through various scenes of footage that are from the 533 silent film reels that were discovered.

But also to show how Dawson City brought many people for gold, many people who worked in Dawson and would become tycoons in America. But we see the transformation of Dawson, which was once an entertainment hub to have a population of tends of thousand to technology eventually lessening the role of miners and decreasing the population to a few thousand.

We see the years progress, we see through this footage of the various films that were lost, or films and news reels that only have so much surviving footage due to degradation, film warp/damage due to time and also being thrown in soil for many years and being strewn around.

And through this footage, we see history play out and “Dawson City: Frozen Time” eventually becoming a tale about the American 20th century.  From thousands of people moving to areas where there was gold, these areas becoming business and entertainment hubs, from how people in Dawson received entertainment showing what was going on in America, from the World Series, strikes, celebrity scandals and more.


“Dawson City: Frozen Time” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio).  This is a film that showcases American history through photography and videos.  For the most part, picture quality is good but depending on the surviving film footage that was found in Dawson, some reels are in good shape, others not so good.  Some footage may show excessive degradation to film damage, while others may look very good with minimal scratches.  But these scenes are short, if anything, scenes to indicate a point or reference.  As I always mention in silent films and when it comes to picture quality, considering nearly 75% of films are lost, the fact that we get to see these surviving films or even glimpses of American history is fantastic. 


“Dawson City: Frozen Time” features haunting melodies created by Alex Somers.  Lossless audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  Scenes with dialogue are crystal clear.


“Dawson City: Frozen Time” comes with following special features:

  • Dawson City: Postscript – (9:54) Michael Gates and Kathy Jones Gates (Yukon Historians) discussing how the premiere showing of the films would be in Dawson City.  Bill O’Farrell (Head of Film Section of the National Archives of Canada) discussed the condition of the reels when they received them.  And how a last resort of rewashing to save the film because they were in bad shape.  And also what happened to the reels after they were rescued (and how many newsreels and documentaries kept in storage vaults at National Archives Buildings caught on fire).
  • Interview with filmmaker Bill Morrison – (8:50) Filmmaker Bill Morrison discusses on the utilization of film footage and how he would create the story as he discovered Dawson City’s history and the changes that would take place.
  • Selections from the Dawson Film Find – Featuring a plethora of news reels (all silent) such as the British Canadian Pathe News from 1919, The Montreal Heral Screen Magazine of 1919, International News issue #52 of 1919, Pathe’s Weekly of 1914, scenes from “The Butler and the Maid” of 1912, D.W. Griffith’s “Brutality” of 1912, “The Exquisite Tief” of 1919, “The Girl of the Northern Woods” of 1910 and more.
  • Trailer


“Dawson City: Frozen Time” comes with a 24-page booklet with an essay by Lawrence Weschler and Alberto Zambenedetti.

For many silent film fans, before Hollywood, it was known that Fort Lee, New Jersey was once the motion picture capital during the early 1900’s and it is known that 75% of all silent films were destroyed unfortunately by improper storage and the combustible nitrate film.

But how is it that 533 silent film reels were discovered in Dawson City, a town in northern Yukon (Canada) by a construction worker in 1978.

It sounds hard to believe but while excavation was being done, in order to create a new recreation center, Frank Barrett saw reels of film that were literally dumped in the Earth.

Many were fiction films and newsreel footage from the early 1900s.

But what many people may not know is how this once booming goldmining town had a connection to the early entertainment scene and the location would include people who would go on to do great things in America back then.

In order to showcase clips from films and newsreel footage found in Dawson City but also showcasing the history of the town, filmmaker Bill Morrison created “Dawson City: Frozen in Time”.

The film would go into how an American man visiting a village of the indigenous Han people (First Nations people of Canada) who happened to be mining and discovered gold.  This would lead to other prospectors discovering gold, claiming the land, displacing the Han people and because of the mining, also destroying their hunting and fishing.

While those who came to the Yukon first were able to capitalize, would lead to one of the first restaurant and hotel (created by Frederick Trump, grandfather of U.S. President, Donald Trump and miner Ernest Levin) which offered fine dining and lodging but also scales to weigh gold.

How thousands of people would flock to Dawson to mine gold and many business were opened.  And one of the families that went to Dawson City was Sid Grauman and his parents.  And little Sid saw how people paid a lot for entertainment and Sid Grauman would grow up to open theaters in America, including the popular Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.  To Alexander Pantage who would move to Dawson and eventually found love with brothel-keeper “Klondike Kate” Rockwell and both operated the successful vaudeville and burlesque theatre, the Oprheum.  Pantage would become famous for promoting the “movie palace” concept and creating theatres across the United States and Canada.

How Yukon Gold Company employee William Desmond Taylor would become a famous silent film director but possibly best known for his murder and a cold case which was probably intentionally by the film studios.

For sports, Dawson was host to various sporting events and boxing matches.  But with tens of thousands of people coming to Dawson, eventually bigger companies would find ways to mine for gold with devising new technologies such as floating dredges that would be less reliant on workers and the population would eventually dwindle to a few thousand.

And as time went on, we would see history play out through this film reels.  From strikes, the war to baseball such as the World Series including the Black Socks Scandal in which members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series games.

To video footage of multiple film laboratories and theaters that burned (which eventually led to the end of nitrate films and finding safer alternatives to creating film).

But those who stayed would create a community and life in the 1900’s to the teens were captured on nitrate and film reels were distributed around the world but as film companies didn’t feel the need to get the reels back, Dawson City which was so remote, was the last of the distribution line for film companies.

In fact, Dawson City would receive films 2-3 years later but eventually they would have many reels that were stacked up and so, they were either burned, thrown into the river (with other garbage, showing mass pollution being thrown in the river) or buried into the soil.

But it was this discovery in 1978 that would lead to people discovering reels of silent film and news footage that have been long forgotten.  Considering that many nitrate film were lost in fires and 75% of silent film were lost, this discovery was no doubt a significant find.

And I have to applaud filmmaker Bill Morrison who was able to piece together many photos to build a timeline of Dawson City’s transformation with or without the miners, the significance of buildings, especially the pool to various buildings that were destroyed or rebuilt, to those who stayed and worked in Dawson and would become famous and also featuring those who were displaced.  And inter-spread with this historical timeline are footage from various newsreels and film that help capture society during that era (focused between 1900-1919).

Well-researched, well-presented, “Dawson City: Frozen Time” is a fantastic documentary from Bill Morrison and a true masterpiece!