A treasure trove of film prints, largely of silent movies thought long-lost, were discovered buried in Dawson City, but the films weren’t any good – dramas so generic that Morrison has fun editing together scenes from them, changing the source film with every shot and showing how it still coheres. So rather than spotlight the films on their own merit, we follow the fascinating story of Dawson City, its famous former residents and unfamous locals, illustrating this history lesson with clips from the discovered films and others, and showcasing some astounding glass-plate photography from the era under discussion. And of course we’re not limited to the most well-preserved films – different kinds of decay and destruction are discussed and displayed. Dawson City was a primary Canadian gold rush town, so it’s full of sordid and enterprising stories, and he sidetracks into any exciting bit for as long as it takes. Exciting is relative, though – Bill’s into drawing things out, slowing them down to the wavelength of the great Alex Somers (Sigur Rós) score, my favorite yet in a Morrison movie. What could’ve been a one-hour informational PBS special becomes a two-hour feature, and Katy wanted things to move more quickly.

For the first time, this is an entry about a book I’ve read, not a movie I’ve watched. It’s a book about film though, so I think it fits in.

I enjoyed P.C. Usai’s writings in the “1000 Movie Moments” book, so I finally tracked this down. Full of short (never more than a page long) interrelated statements about film destruction and preservation, mostly over-academic. But for each statement on the right-hand page, there’s an interesting captioned photograph on the left-hand page, so whenever I’d read the words on the right with no understanding or enjoyment, at least I’d get the photo to keep me turning to the next page. Short book, anyway, and ends with a “reader’s report” which nicely condenses the long-winded despair of the author into a few pages of focused and readable despair on the impossibility of any sort of complete archive of film history – not that such a thing would necessarily be desirable.

Some bits I liked:

p. 19: “If all moving images were available, the massive fact of their presence would impede any effort to establish criteria of relevance – more so, indeed, than if they had all been obliterated, for then, at least, selective comprehension would be replaced by pure conjecture.”

p. 49, given the degradation of the original image, and the viewer’s lack of total attention (including blinking of the eyes), “no viewer can claim to have seen a moving image in its entirety.” That one-ups F. Camper’s claims that if you’ve seen a movie on video, you haven’t seen the movie. Not even he has seen the movie!

p. 51: “It is expected that a time will come when the loneliness of the spectator will be detrimental to the pleasure of experiencing moving images.”

p. 89: “The ultimate goal of film history is an account of its own disappearance, or its transformation into another entity.”

p. 109: “The real questions is, are viewers willing to accept the slow fading to nothing of what they are looking at? Is it fair to encourage them to believe that they will never witness the inevitable, and that its actuial experience will be left to someone else?”

p. 129: “…all lost moving images have at least existed for some viewer in the past. The unseen is an integral part of our lives, even if not directly our own. … The fact that the unseen is beyond our control is an excellent antidote to our claim of authority over the visible world, and administers a good shaking up to our deluded obsession with permanence. Sooner or later you and I will both disappear, along with our visions and memories of what we have seen and the way we have seen it.”