Films for the Fair: The World's Fair & the Cinema

Series Site

"The phenomenon of the World’s Fair (or International Exposition) came into being in the middle of the 19thcentury, and continues to this day to represent the occasion for a celebration of international unity, a platform for the demonstration of social, technological, and commercial advances or visions, a showcase for architectural experimentation, and of course an engine for tourism and national promotion. Outside of specialist circles, however, the role of the moving-image in the World’s Fair/Expo is rarely emphasized. Highlighting the various ways the cinema and the World’s Fair have been interconnected through the years (and timed to coincide with the 80thanniversary of the 1939 New York World’s Fair, not to mention the 55thanniversary of the 1964 edition), this film series encompasses films documenting the various Fairs and Expos, movies that were famously shown during the events, and, most intriguingly, some of the many films and moving-image installations that were commissioned specifically for the Fairs.

"The series focuses in particular on a handful of Fairs and Expos, above all the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, the 1939 and 1964 New York World’s Fairs, Expo 58 in Brussels (which featured an important film festival devoted to experimental filmmaking), and – the Fair that incorporated the moving-image more fully than any other – Expo 67 in Montreal (which was distinguished by the many experiments in multiple-screen presentations that it showcased).

"The World’s Fair is a strange beast: a paradoxical mixture of shameless advertising and at times genuinely ambitious visions of the technological and social future. Above all, they constitute the opportunity for a society to construct myths of itself, past, present, and future – and these myths are quite literally constructed, resulting in spectacular but temporary built environments. The temporary nature of these grandiose built environments makes their cinematic portraits all the more fascinating. All films are fated to become documents of a vanished world, but all the more so those works that depict the elaborate fairgrounds of the World’s Fairs, which were built to impress but also to disappear abruptly almost immediately following each Exposition. The films screening here – which reflect or explore the many different facets of the World’s Fair phenomenon – depict worlds both imagined and lost."