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Film / City of Gold (1957)

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City of Gold is a 1957 documentary short film (22 minutes) directed by Colin Low and Wolf Koenig, produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

It is about Dawson City, Yukon Territory, and specifically the famous Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Writer Pierre Berton, who grew up in Dawson City, provides narration. After making a thumbnail sketch of the town and recounting his youth playing baseball in the parks, Berton turns to the abandoned buildings from when Dawson City was a much bigger gold rush town, and how he and his friends used to play in them. This is a segue to the main subject of the documentary, the famous Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, when 100,000 people flooded into the Yukon and Dawson City became a boom town.

This short film is the Trope Maker for The Ken Burns Effect.


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Tropes:

  • Boom Town: Dawson City went from 500 people to "a weird and exotic city" of 30,000 people in the summer of 1898, after the ice broke on the Yukon River and everyone came pouring in. Berton notes in his narration that it was not a Wild West town, that the Mounties kept law and order in Dawson from the start.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: One shot of an abandoned home shows a single woman's shoe, sitting on a window sill, covered in cobwebs.
  • Ghost Town: Most of Dawson City, having shrunk from 30,000 people at the height of the gold rush to less than a thousand when Pierre Berton was growing up. (In the 21st century it's around 1400.) The camera demonstrates some of the many abandoned buildings still standing in the 1950s.
  • Gold Fever: The massive migration into the Yukon in 1898. The narration notes that most of the people who came to the Dawson City area didn't get any gold, because all the best spots had already been taken by locals or the first arrivals in 1897.
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  • The Ken Burns Effect: Ken Burns himself has cited this film as inspiration. The filmmakers of City of Gold, charged with making a documentary out of a trove of still pictures, panned and zoomed their camera around the still pictures, starting with pans of the trail of miners struggling up Chilkoot Pass, and continuing with all the other pictures of the life of the town. The method they invented became one of the most popular tropes in documentary filmmaking.
  • Narrator: Pierre Berton, remembering his home town.
  • Red Light District: "Paradise Alley", a block off the main street, where all the brothels were. Berton's narration mentions how the ladies of the evening always had fancy French clothing.
  • Scenery Porn: Some lovely shots of the mountains of the Yukon, covered in snow.
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