- Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo eds. by Monika Kin Gagnon and Janine Marchessault
Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67 provides a timely collection of essays, interviews, and artist statements as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of Expo 67. The goal of the project is to explore how integral the films presented at the exhibition were, both to the event itself and to the broader art of filmmaking. Arguing that “the experiments of Expo 67 lend much insight to the aesthetics and phenomenologies of contemporary media,” it highlights the technologies used by some of the films at the exhibition, suggesting them as influential precursors to the technologies seen in the resurgent popularization of 3-D and IMAX film formats today.
The collection is organized around films that differently configure screen and theatre design technologies. The first section, titled “Total Environments,” includes an excerpt of Donald Theall’s 1976 book prospectus on the Expo that describes the films and the exhibition site as an integrated, total environment that casts the exhibition itself as a work of art. The section also includes a chapter on Labyrinth, situated by Seth Feldman within a genealogy that spans from cave painting to Greek myth, Enlightenment art, and the tradition of world fairs. Johanne Sloan’s essay on Kaleidoscope studies the film’s chemical company sponsorship in contrast to its experimental and psychedelic form. Janine Marchessault explores Expo 67 as a “utopian media city,” with a concentration on the melding of architecture, props, and film media in the Man and His Community Pavilion’s Citérama.
“Multiscreen,” the second section, discusses We Are Young!, described by Anthony Kinik as “a meditation on youth and Canada”—but one that gave an “ironic, even critical” portrayal of Montreal within the confines of the corporate-sponsored Canadian Pacific-Cominco Pavilion.
Graeme Ferguson, the director of Polar Life, writes the third section of the book, “Rotating Audiences.” Polar Life anticipated the later development of IMAX, and Ferguson describes the collaborative filming and editing processes during its making, as well as his work screening it at the Expo.
In the fourth section, “Multi-Image (Single Screens),” A Place to Stand director Christopher Chapman describes the development of his film for the Ontario Pavilion and its intricate editing process. The Christian Pavilion’s The Eighth Day is emphasized by Gary Miedema for its application of abstract, secular imagery, contrasting the didacticism of the Sermons of Science Pavilion.
The final section, titled “360°,” discusses Canada 67 and the use of Walt Disney’s Circle-Vision technology. Monika Kin Gagnon compares this [End Page 465] “soliloquy to Canada” and its popular Telephone Pavilion to the decidedly negative audience responses it garnered. The section also includes an interview with the film’s director, Robert Barclay, who details his meetings with Disney in the planning and development stages of the film.
Reimagining Cinema oscillates between an appreciative “historical recovery” and a critical examination of the films in their social contexts. Such an array is a benefit to the goals of the collection, enabling a heightened appreciation for the influential design techniques that were presented at the Expo, yet this multiplied approach makes for a slight tonal imbalance. The critique of historical contexts leads to the question of why the book makes no mention of another influential film, Indian Memento. This film presents a visual narrative of indigenous life as it is increasingly affected by urbanization in Canada. Although it is not formally innovative—the film is conventional in its single-screen projection—the Indians of Canada Pavilion, where the film was shown, was one of the most visited sites at the Expo. The introduction to the book does recognize the capitalist and colonialist histories of world fairs, however, and notes that the number of films presented at the Expo makes an exhaustive treatment impossible within the confines of a single study. The selection of films whose formal configurations develop the concepts of expanded cinema and film-event is well done. In addition to interviews and artist statements, the essays are generously...