Saturday, 27 September 2014

1898: Pack Train on Chilkoot Pass

Compared to other pioneers like Smith and Melies, Edison's films can look rather dull as they are mostly simple historical records with no attempt at cinematic technique or innovation, and on the face of it "Pack Train at Chilkoot Pass" is not a very remarkable film except that it records a mode of transport seldom seen today, a pack train of mules. It's a simple, single shot film of a few dozen mules and their drivers plodding along a dirt track beside a river in the mountains.  However the time and place is significant as it seems to be a film record of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, in which 40000 prospectors made their way over the Alaskan border into the Klondike goldfields. About one in ten struck gold - not the worst odds for such a high stakes game but still, the other 90 percent probably suffered gruelling hardship and lost everything they had in the venture.
Although the film might have been shot on the lower part of the Klondike trail it clearly isn't the pass itself. Many contemporary photos record the famous single-file trail of dogged prospectors climbing the 'golden stairs' - the ice-carved staircase up the snow-covered mountainside, which holds a famous place in silent movie history as it was faithfully recreated by Charlie Chaplin in his 1925 feature, "the Gold Rush".
(note: This YouTube version dates the film as 1901 but most sources place it at 1898.)    

No comments:

Post a Comment