Sunday, September 9, 2018

Dawson City

Tonight's prime time lineup starts with a new-to-me documentary, Dawson City: Frozen Time, at 8:00 PM.

Many years back, a dump of several hundred reels of nitrate was discovered in Dawson City, Yukon. They ended up there because Dawson City was pretty much the end of the line for film distribution. In the old days, there wouldn't be mass releases of movies the way we've had since summer blockbusters like Jaws came on the scene. Insteda, a limited number of prints were made, and after one theater was done with a movie, it would go down the line to another town. Dawson City was at the end of the line. (New Zealand was the end of the line in a different direction.) Considering the cost and risk of transporting nitrate, places didn't necessarily send the films back to the original studio or distributor, but dumped them. Dawson City, with its permafrost and cold, dry climate, turned out to be just the right sort of climate to preserve dumped nitrate, at least unintentionally. Apparently, the movie looks at both the find and restoration of those film reels, as well as a history of Dawson City as it was at the time the movies were making their way there.

Dawson City: Frozen Time will be followed at 10:15 PM by Fragments, a documentary I've mentioned before about how some films only survive in fragmentary form. One of the things I remember which I'm pretty certain came from Fragments is that studios would technically only copyright part of a work, especially when it was a one- or two-reeler, by converting a small section of the movie into positive images and copyrighting that collection. The movie as a whole would be incoherent without that section. Those photos could be played flipbook style to show motion, and the brief movie snippets have been reconstructed.

No comments: