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Filmic Gold: The Elemental Aesthetics of the Klondike Gold Rush in Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016)

Authors
  • Hess, Linda M.1
  • 1 American Studies, University of Augsburg, Universitätsstr. 10, 86159 , (Germany)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Publisher
De Gruyter
Publication Date
Mar 18, 2022
Volume
70
Issue
1
Pages
89–105
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1515/zaa-2022-2051
Source
De Gruyter
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

This contribution examines the elemental aesthetics of Bill Morrison’s documentary film Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016). The film traces connections between the birth of Dawson City as a boomtown of the Klondike Gold Rush in Yukon Territory in 1896 and the birth of cinema and the rise of the Hollywood movie industry, linking actual resource extraction (gold mining) to its discursive framing and mythologization (in Hollywood movies). Throughout the film, Morrison incorporates extracts of silent-film reels that were recovered from the permafrost below Dawson City in 1978 and that thus bear distinct marks of water damage that shape the aesthetic of Dawson City: Frozen Time. Through its comprehensive engagement of elemental materialities, Morrison’s film narrates the Klondike Gold Rush as a particular moment in the history of (North American) resource extraction. It invites analysis through the lenses of material and elemental ecocriticism, lenses that allow for understanding this moment within the vast network of profound transformations of the earth that have become known as the Anthropocene. The filmic composition itself prompts the audience to pay close attention to different elements—gold, earth, water, fire—that are crucially involved in both the Klondike Gold Rush and the film’s own history. Via this elemental focus, Morrison also creates a tension between the film’s elicitation of vicarious grief for the loss of the landscape and its evocation of irrevocable transformation as an ongoing process of human and elemental agency.

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