Third plenary session: Expo67 and Global Futures

Friday, November 3
4:00 PM–5:45 PM

Location: Senate Room, Senate House, University of London

Speaker/performer: Michael Darroch; Johanne Sloan; Denis Chouinard; Will Straw

Days: Friday, 3 November
Lecture: Plenary session

 Michael Darroch (Windsor): "TV is Immediate: Imagining Urban Media Studies in the 1950s”

This paper explores a series of conversations and collaborations in the 1950s that contributed to new understandings of the convergence of media, architecture, and urban space. In 1951, British town planner Jaqueline Tyrwhitt and Canadian architect Wells Coates helped organize the “Heart of the City,” the eighth meeting of the CongreÌs internationaux d'architecture moderne (CIAM), held in Hoddesdon, UK. Tyrwhitt further developed this theme for the script of the “Live Architecture” exhibition at the 1951 Festival of Britain, while Coates designed the festival’s Telekinema, a cinema that combined 3D film and large screen television projection, as well as its neighbouring Television Pavilion. Between late 1951 and 1957, Tyrwhitt collaborated with Marshall McLuhan and Edmund Carpenter in Toronto, contributing her insights on the “core of the city” to the founding years of Toronto School media studies. Tyrwhitt facilitated theoretical discussions regarding urban space and new media that developed at Toronto’s Culture and Communications Seminar (1953-55) and throughout the publication of the journal Explorations (1953-59).

Johanne Sloan (Concordia): “Constructing futurity”  

When a 1967 Life magazine article used the headline “Leap into the future” to describe Expo 67, it was to describe its novel forms of architecture and technology, but this vocabulary also tapped into a future-oriented and utopian discourse long associated with world’s fairs. This paper draws on Amanda Lagerkvist’s discussion of cities wherein futurity becomes “a defining propensity of the place… which is culturally and socially produced and enacted,” while I also argue that Ernst Bloch’s theory of the utopian impulse as a form of “anticipatory consciousness” is germane to an understanding of how a sense of futurity was constructed at Expo 67. A voluminous quantity of photographs, illustrations and maquettes showcasing the construction of the site and the coming event would circulate widely, within Canada and internationally, in the years leading up to the 1967 opening of the fair – and indeed these visual documents have continued to be consumed over the last 50 years. Addressing this imagery, I examine how Expo 67 promised glimpses of a future city and a cosmopolitan “world.”


Denis Chouinard (UQAM), “Exposing Modernity: a young Québec film community’s encounter with world cinema at Expo67”

Expo 67 brought to the eyes of Quebec artists the most innovative trends in modern cinema. The mega-exhibition opened less than four years after the first independent Quebec movie, AÌ tout prendre by Claude Jutras, was premiered, and the incipient film community was still searching for its bearings. All the filmmakers of the time attended the numerous film screenings that were happening in the national pavilions, exposing themselves to foreign sensibilities they had never been in contact with before. Numerous guests from all artistic sensibilities accompanied their films, creating such rich encounters as the one between Jerzy Skolimovski (Poland) and Gilles Groulx (Quebec), among others. With this talk I will try to demonstrate that the coming of established film artists like Fritz Lang, Jack Lemmon, Jack Nicholson and Jean Renoir to Expo 67 influenced the budding film community and changed the way Quebec filmmakers approached their work afterwords. 

Will Straw (McGill), “Secret agents at Expo: the case of Komissar X”

Lost within the corpus of filmic works exhibited at Expo ’67, or produced so as to record it, is the 1968 German/Italian/Canadian co-productionKommissar X – the Blue Panther.  Between 1966 and 1968, this film’s title character appeared in six feature films, produced as cheaper imitations of the much more popular James bond series.  Known, in some versions, as Kill, Panther, KillKommissar X  features a chase for stolen jewels that begins in Los Angeles, passes through Calgary (at the time of the Stampede) and ends up in Expo ’67.  Key scenes are shot on the Expo ’67 site, with real Expo visitors serving as backdrops to action and climactic events (like murders) unfolding on the monorail that took visitors from pavilion to pavilion.  Kommissar Xoffers the unusual spectacle of the exposition being hijacked as the setting for a low-budget, European James Bond knock-off.  Even as Expo ‘67 endows the film with a sense of grandiose spectacle, Kommissar X cannot escape dragging the exposition down to the level of lurid backdrop to clichéd thriller action.

My paper will speak of the ways in which the cinematic use of Expo in this film differs from other, more canonical cinematic engagements with the event.  Like other thrillers whose climaxes unfold at fairgrounds (such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train), Kommissar X turns the Expo ’67 site into a space of sensational dangers rather than utopian promise.  The much vaunted internationalism of Expo ’67 is mirrored and distorted in this film’s own placelessness, as a product of muddy co-production agreements and unsuccessful attempts to appear “American”.  The star of Kommissar X, Tony Kendall, had been born Luciano Stella in Rome, and its Italian director and key screenwriters represented themselves in the credits with English names.  While other cinematic experiments from Expo ’67 have become the object of painstaking reconstruction initiatives, Kommissar X continues to circulate in abject form, in badly dubbed downloads, muddy VHS transfers and versions of varying lengths.  Its legacy is that of setting Expo ’67 back within the context of mid-1960s trans-Atlantic popular culture at its most exploitational and fraudulent.