EXPO 67: MIS­SION IM­POS­SI­BLE

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WHEN MOSCOW BACKS OUT OF HOST­ING THE 1967 WORLD’S FAIR a full two years af­ter win­ning the bid, Mon­treal must step up to the plate to unite Canada and en­sure its in­ter­na­tional stand­ing. But can they do it with less than five years to plan and ex­e­cute a rad­i­cal ur­ban trans­for­ma­tion – in­clud­ing the build­ing of two man-made is­lands in the St. Lawrence River – when other cities have needed more than 10? De­spite the au­di­ence’s likely fore­knowl­edge of the out­come, Expo 67: Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble en­deav­ors to be a real nail-biter. Draw­ing on a col­lec­tion of 80,000 archival finds – in­clud­ing plan­ning doc­u­ments, pho­tos, film footage, news­pa­per clip­pings, blue­prints, sketches and maps – the film traces the jour­ney from fool’s er­rand to mis­sion ac­com­pli. The 1960s jazz score and slick edit­ing move us through a chrono­log­i­cal retelling of mu­nic­i­pal and na­tional po­lit­i­cal ten­sions, plan­ning and engi­neer­ing hur­dles, and con­stant pub­lic skep­ti­cism.

In­ter­views with the sur­viv­ing play­ers in this un­der­dog’s tale are sprin­kled be­tween gor­geous archival shots of Mon­treal and the fair­grounds them- selves. The film el­e­vates ur­ban plan­ners to epic he­roes nearly as charis­matic, be­sieged, and fool­hardy as those of Homer’s po­ems – a tech­nique that cer­tainly makes for dra­matic sto­ry­telling. The down­side of the ha­gio­graphic nar­ra­tive is that very lit­tle time is left for the viewer to take plea­sure in the sump­tu­ous de­sign ele­ments of the ex­po­si­tion it­self, or to con­tem­plate the rel­e­vance of the event’s themes and world­views. Still, we get won­der­ful glimpses of the ad­ver­tis­ing, logo de­sign, scale mod­els, il­lus­tra­tions, aerial views, and pa­trons (who in­clude celebri­ties and heads of state). And by the end, Expo 67 is judged a re­sound­ing suc­cess – “the great­est uni­ver­sal ex­po­si­tion of all time,” even – and cred­ited as proof that French and An­glo Cana­di­ans can make ex­tra­or­di­nary mu­sic to­gether (even as ap­pre­hen­sions around sep­a­ratism were reach­ing a fever pitch). More­over, Mon­treal’s sta­tus as a modern global vil­lage is an­nounced and guar­an­teed go­ing for­ward. Mais bien sûr.

Dr. Pa­pa­gena Rob­bins is a teacher and film scholar based in Mon­treal.

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