Auditorium - DAMSLab > 18:00


Bill Morrison
Introduced by

Bill Morrison


Saturday 24/06/2017


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

It is a story that is told, using these same films from the collection. It is both a cinema of mythology and mythologizing of cinema.

Bill Morrison

Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. Between the end of the nineteenth century and the 1920s, it’s the last outpost of Yankee civilization (in the grip of gold fever); beyond a frozen land, where many American fortunes were made. There is a movie theater and films come in; but it costs too much to send them back. At the end of the 1970s, excavations where a swimming pool and later a hockey rink had been stumbled upon a small deposit preserved in the ice. In many cases, films were found which had been given up for lost. Bill Morrison, who in 2002 made a visual poem about nitrate film with Decasia, used the found footage and Alex Somers’s hypnotic soundtrack to compose a “rollicking Gold Rush ballad of newsreels, silent melodramas, comedies and actualities. Its argument parallels the early years of cinema with the white settlement of North America’s final wild frontier, as well as the archaeological digging of cinema historians and that of the miners. It’s an intricate and holistic look at North American history” (Sophie Mayer, “Sight and Sound”). The vision has the grain of vintage photographs, whereas the editing infuses the life of narrative and history: while one America was born on the streets of New York, another (and the same) America was being created up north, at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike, from the civil trinity of brothel, bank and movie theater. We watch with bated breath these ghosts called to tell the story of their distant adventure, half-expecting to see the Tramp break through the mud and snow, dreaming of gold, or maybe the already defeated McCabe and Mrs. Miller; what we actually see is the striking transformation of a landscape, dredged by the force of a young and voracious capitalism. The films exhumed from the ice are shown to us in fast, repeated, obsessive, intact or broken fragments, sometimes used as a joke on the Kuleshov effect (the same shot of a telephone call takes on different meanings depending on the context), sometimes even able to attest to a solemn historical truth (the 1919 World Series was really rigged by the Black Sox). Finally there is the image, the oldest of them all, of a ballerina dancing lightly among the arabesques of her own decay, the illusory promise that the magic of cinema will last forever.

Paola Cristalli

Cast and Credits

Scen., F., M.: Bill Morrison. Mus.: Alex Somers. Prod.: Madeleine Molyneaux, Bill Morrison per Hypnotic Pictures, Picture Palace Pictures, in associazione con ARTE – La Lucarne, con la partecipazione di The Museum of Modern Art. DCP. D.: 120’. Bn e Col.