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Reviewed by:
  • Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67 ed. by Monika Kin Gagnon and Janine Marchessault
  • Brian Real
REIMAGINING CINEMA: FILM AT EXPO 67 Edited by Monika Kin Gagnon and Janine Marchessault Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2014, 312 pp.

In 2006, one year before the fortieth anniversary of the Montreal Expo, a research team called Canada and the Films of Expo 67 formed to better document the event's importance in Canadian cinematic history. The end result of this long, but successful, research process is Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67. All but two of the nine chapters focus on a single pavilion that featured motion pictures that used multiple screens or multiple images in a single-screen film. The editors argue that the reason these film experiments have been understudied and largely excluded from the Canadian film canon, despite having been seen by hundreds of thousands of people, is that their complex technical requirements prevented most of them from being screened at all—not to mention in their original context—after Expo ended. Considering this, the research team not only created scholarly texts explaining the cultural importance of the films discussed, but published this material in a format that more closely resembles an exhibition catalog than a standard academic publication. The end result is a book that is thoroughly researched, intelligently written, and richly illustrated, allowing the reader to gain an understanding and appreciation of works that are inaccessible in their original form.

The first chapter is a reproduction of a prospectus for a book project on Expo, written by Donald Theall in 1976 when he was acting as professor and founding director of McGill University's graduate program in communication. The research team for the book was able to meet Theall and access his papers before he passed away in 2008. The result is a solid theoretical framework for subsequent articles, with Theall's PhD advisor Marhsall McLuhan being a particularly relevant contemporary source. Other contributors regularly refer back to the theories detailed in the prospectus without reintroducing and justifying the relevancy of various cultural critics, significantly contributing to the flow of the book. Likewise, although the editors chose to limit the scope of the book to films and pavilions that are specifically part of Canadian history, Theall includes brief discussions of other major pavilions and films, such as the American cinema exhibit and the world's first interactive film, Kinoautomat, at the Czech pavilion. These brief mentions in the early part of the book provide useful context, allowing the contributors to maintain focus on Expo as a major event in Canadian cinema while still connecting it to its international context. [End Page 127]

A common thread throughout discussions of many of the films is how their corresponding pavilions had to be constructed to accommodate various innovations. Labyrinth, created by the National Film Board of Canada's Unit B, was a direct commission from Expo's board for a pavilion centered the idea of Man the Hero, one of its seven sub-themes. Expanding on Unit B's previous experimental work, the pavilion was constructed to show episodes of a greater work in various engaging formats, including projecting onto the floor to show individuals standing on top to be part of the work. Likewise, Kaleidoscope was a pavilion and art project sponsored by numerous Canadian chemical companies that used film in combination with slides, light displays, mirrored surfaces, and other technologies to create abstract displays of color in its various chambers. The first mention, and a brief history, of the Summer of Love exhibit is in relation to Kaleidoscope and provides an explanation for why visitors incorrectly interpreted the former as embracing psychedelic art. Polar Life, meanwhile, housed spectators in a theatre that rotated the audience to face a series of different set of screens, with each set being designed and configured to convey several simultaneous impressions of the arctic. The end result was immersive environments that engaged spectators in the films and their cultural moment, with the book's authors amply demonstrating the convergence of film and architectural history.

The concept of what constitutes a specifically Canadian work or pavilion is raised by the six...


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pp. 127-129
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