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Reviewed by:
  • Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67 ed. by Monika Kin Gagnon, Janine Marchessault
  • Jan Baetens
Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67
edited by Monika Kin Gagnon and Janine Marchessault. McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal and Kingston, 2014. 296pp., illus. Trade, paper. CAD ISBN 9780773544505; ISBN 9780773544512.

Expo 67, Montreal’s 1967 world’s fair, was a landmark exhibition not only in praise of the technological and humanist optimism displayed by its unifying theme (man as creator of his own environment and builder of a community that embraces the whole world) but also for its transformation of the fair into a total experience in which the boundaries between man, machine and city were meant to disappear (although the official point of departure of the fair’s message was Saint-Exupéry’s humanistic universalism, the real conceptual framework of the event was much more to be found in the work by Marshall McLuhan). Expo 67 did not just show new artefacts, new technological achievements, new architecture; it was itself a kind of techno-determined Gesamtkunstwerk enabling the visitor to get the feeling of what modern life was making possible. Among the most salient features of Expo 67 were its multiple cinematographic shows (most pavilions entailed one or more shows of moving images), some of which have proved key contributions to completely new forms of film-making and film-going.

This collected volume, the result of a five-year research project by a team of Canadian film scholars, focuses on the way several (Canadian) film-events helped shape the idea of “expanded cinema” and contribute to the larger shift from traditional theatrical single-screen projection with fixed spectators (the situation soon to be critically examined in the post-’68 “apparatus theory”) to dramatically different practices relying on multiscreen, multi-image, 360-degree projections, with immersed, participative and often mobile spectators, but also on the integration of cinema and architecture inside and outside the world fair (a situation or set of situations with which post-cinematographic readings of digital cinema are today very familiar but whose impact in these years was truly tremendous). Studies on post-cinema, expanded cinema, digital cinema are certainly not lacking (a still-inspiring example is Future Cinema, the catalog of a 2003 ZKM exhibition curated by Jeffrey Shaw and Peter Weibel), but it may come as a surprise that in these works the pivotal role of Expo 67 does not always receive the attention it deserves. There are many reasons for this partial neglect. Some of them are anecdotal: Although developed by a team of Canadian filmmakers and entrepreneurs and already shown at Expo 67, the IMAX widescreen technique, for instance, the commercially most successful technique on display in Montreal, was actually only “institutionalized” in 1970, at the next world’s fair in Osaka, Japan. Others are much more fundamental, such as the dismantling of the exhibition site, which prevents the “reenactment” of the actual experience, as well as the disappearance of most of the films shown during the event, some of them stored in archives they cannot leave (not even for scholarly purposes), others simply lost (and sometimes hardly documented, except by spare eyewitness testimonies). Re-imagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67 is therefore a project whose title should be read at face value: It entails, first, the verbal and visual reconstruction of a lost filmic and cultural heritage and, second, the critical and interdisciplinary analysis of the actual meaning of the role and place of cinema in the larger context of the Montreal’s world’s fair.

The result is breathtaking. The research project has managed in recovering a large number of original documents (the film stock, completed with descriptions by actual visitors, interviews with filmmakers and producers, official and amateur photographs, press and magazine reviews, unpublished reports and analyses), and thanks to these efforts it is now possible to give a precise description of what the key filmic events actually offered to the spectators. The book focuses on eight key experiments (ranging from the infamous Disney-produced 360° Canada 67 documentary, as unanimously and wildly enthusiastically applauded by the public as it was despised by the scholarly and professional press, to innovative...