1981-1990ArchitectureDocumentaryLance BirdUSA

Lance Bird – The World of Tomorrow (1984)

The film was first broadcast on PBS in 1984 as a 60-minute feature and later expanded into an 84-minute production.

From New York Times review
”THE World of Tomorrow,” which opens today at the Film Forum, is a fine, funny feature-length documentary about the New York World’s Fair of 1939, when, for a few, short, glittery months, Western civilization paused between the Depression and World War II.

The fair, devoted to the material and scientific wonders awaiting in the world of tomorrow, was held over for a second season in the summer of 1940, but by then the Netherlands, Belgium and France had fallen to the Germans, and business at the fair was disappointing. ”The World of Tomorrow,” the fair’s official theme, had come to be less a promise than a threat.

Using newsreel footage, home movies and some wonderfully revealing promotional movies shown within the fair, Tom Johnson and Lance Bird, who produced and directed the film, and John Crowley, who wrote it, have created an exceptionally perceptive film-essay on the cockeyed optimism that since the mid-19th century has been a historical obligation for all right-thinking Americans.

”The past is black and white,” says Jason Robards, the sound track narrator. ”The future is color,” and the black-and-white newsreel footage, which opens the film, slowly merges into the color footage of the home movies and the official films made to celebrate the fair itself.

As the audience gets its first glimpse of the fair’s splendid, stark- white trylon and perisphere, surrounded by acres of color-coordinated pavilions and midway rides, we hear Judy Garland’s Dorothy, in a line from the sound track of ”The Wizard of Oz,” whisper her suspicions to Toto. ”I have a feeling,” she says, ”that we’re no longer in Kansas.”

Her feeling was shared by millions of visitors from around the world who crowded into the fair that first summer to be stunned by a vision of the future that was a cross between Oz and what now seems to us to be a comically dated super civilization. It was a place where each object was to be streamlined whether or not, like a washing machine, it would ever be required to overcome wind resistance.

Mr. Johnson, Mr. Bird and Mr. Crowley are amused by the fair’s mixture of na”ivete, hoopla, scientific marvels and stunning architecture, but they also understand the fair’s place in our cultural history.

Among the film’s highlights is an extended clip from a Westinghouse film in which a small, cynical, Depression-bred Indiana boy is converted to faith in the American future by an avuncular Westinghouse scientist. ”Prosperity and pessimism,” says the scientist, ”don’t go well together.”

Whatever lingering doubts a fair visitor might have had usually vanished after a tour of the General Motors ”Futurama” exhibit, a spectacular forecast of the America of 1960, when all recognizable cities have mysteriously disappeared, to be replaced by a succession of model cities connected by a vast, pollution- free network of superhighways filled with General Motors cars.

”The World of Tomorrow” is a perfect companion piece to the earlier collaboration of the three film makers, ”America Lost and Found,” the vivid, unsentimental film-essay on America during the Depression that was shown here at the Public Theater in 1979.

1.40GB | 1h 22mn | 640×480 | avi



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