Historic movie premiere had a romantic ending – Yukon News
The film found buried in Dawson City in 1978 was caked with mud and rust. Many of them have molded as they thawed. The films were transported to Ottawa by the military, where they were stabilized by specialists assembled by the National Film Archives. (Courtesy of Kathy Jones-Gates)
In July 1978, a horde of silent films was discovered from permafrost in Dawson City by Dawson City Alderman Frank Barrett. After being informed of the discovery and inspecting the site, I contacted Sam Kula, director of the National Film Television and Sound Archives (NFTSA) in Ottawa. Kula responded by immediately traveling to Dawson City to investigate. Museum director Kathy Jones took on the task of retrieving the films for the Motion Picture Archive, on the condition that the collection would forever be known as the Dawson Film Find. Additionally, she insisted that the first screening of the restored films be held in Dawson City.
True to his word, Kula has provided two reels of restored footage from the Dawson Film Find for the world premiere screening of A Selection of the Most Interesting Films, to be held at the Palace Grand Theater in Dawson City.
A lot had happened since the films were first discovered. In the spring of 1979, the swollen waters of the Yukon poured into Dawson. Eighty percent of the city was under water. Buildings had floated from their foundations and settled into the streets. Lives were turned upside down as the community struggled to recover from the chaos created by Mother Nature. But Dawson City residents are still resilient, and buildings were quickly restored. The mud and debris were cleared away and Dawson was open for business when the tourist season began, albeit in a somewhat altered state. People worked double time to recover their homes and their lives, while continuing to work during the day.
The community atmosphere was optimistic and positive in its recovery, although a general state of exhaustion prevailed as summer turned into fall. The films’ premiere was the exclamation point at the end of a remarkable summer. The first showing of the films was part of the annual meeting of the Yukon Historical and Museums Association (YHMA), which had been planned before the flood. The two reels of film sent by Kula were slow to reach Dawson, and there was considerable concern as to whether they would arrive in time. “On Friday afternoon, all we knew for sure,” Jones said, “was that they had left Edmonton. We were worried they were lost somewhere between there and Whitehorse, but they finally arrived at 2am Saturday, thanks to David Ashley [a friend]who accompanied them to Dawson from Whitehorse.
Veteran musician and showman Fred Bass flew in from Vancouver to provide musical accompaniment to the films. Bass has performed to live audiences for most of his 82 years. He began his career in show business “in the pit” during the vaudeville era and graduated in piano for silent films. He was a pioneer in Canadian broadcasting until his retirement (he was an announcer for CKWX radio in Vancouver from 1928 to 1961). After that, he worked with director Fran Dowie in his Gold Rush Review in Barkerville, BC, and in the Gaslight Follies at Dawson’s Palace Grand Theater in the 1960s.
“Sourdough Sue” Ward, who had performed with Bass in Barkerville and the Gaslight Follies, took the stage at the Palace Grand in a gold rush costume adorned with feathers and sequins and served as master of ceremonies for the ‘afternoon. The program consisted of a 90-minute selection from over 500 reels recovered from the frozen depths the previous year. Filtering them all would have taken about 90 hours, not counting popcorn breaks and trips to the bathroom.
The theater was packed as an audience of Dawson City residents, YHMA conference delegates and visitors from as far away as Germany and Israel took their seats. As the lights went down and the screen came alive, Fred Bass played the appropriate music for each film sequence. For the scenes depicting harvest time in the Annapolis Valley, it was “I’ll be with you when the apple trees bloom.” When a massive World War I battleship appeared on screen, it struck a sustained dark and sinister chord.
Bass had had the opportunity to see the films before the screening, but rejected the idea. “I didn’t then,” he assured me when we offered him the preview, “and I have no intention of starting now.” His fingers raced over the keys for over ninety minutes, with only brief interruptions as Kathy Jones and I introduced each segment of the film, giving us a glimpse of what it was like sixty or more years ago. , when he had performed the same duty as a young man. Bass was drenched in sweat at the end of the performance, but still smiling, he gracefully returned to the keyboard so photographers and a CBC camera crew sent to Dawson from Vancouver for the occasion could capture the moment.
Many of the films showed the effects of the decay of the original nitrate-based 35 millimeter stock, or the effects of water ingress or chemical damage while the films were buried. As a result, many scenes ended abruptly and the margins of other scenes were damaged. Given the condition of the originals, it was amazing that so much of the imagery had been restored and that the quality of many reels matched that of films from the era that had been stored in vaults. studio for seventy-five years.
Beginning with a British Canadian Pathé newsreel, the program included episodes of the series army pearl with Pearl White, another series called the red acecrazy comedy All jazzed upthe drama Metis with Douglas Fairbanks, and Circus PollySam Goldwyn’s first film.
The evening was a great success, which was a great relief for Kathy Jones and me, as we had worked tirelessly on the project the previous year. We first met professionally, then personally, and quickly fell in love. Just five weeks after the film premiered at the Palace Grand, on October 13, 1979, Kathy and I were married at St. Paul’s Church in Dawson City.
Over forty years later, we remain married and are still actively involved in exploring Yukon’s colorful and intriguing history. In October 2016, we experienced something of a revival when we were invited to attend the North American premiere of Bill Morrison’s film Dawson City: Frozen Time, screened at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts during the 54th New York Film Festival. We enjoyed our time in the Big Apple and celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary a few days early with shopping and sightseeing, including a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. We visited Times Square at noon, then at midnight. What an incredible and fitting experience this journey has been, and what a remarkable conclusion to a project that began for us four decades ago!
Michael Gates is the first winner in Yukon history. This article is adapted from her new book, “Hollywood in the Klondike,” which is now available for purchase in select stores and online. You can contact him at [email protected]