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World’s Fair

June 2023
1min read

The World of Tomorrow

directed by Tom Johnson and Lance Bird, narrated by Jason Robards, Direct Cinema, 83 minutes .

It is usually true in the editorial world that every story will be improved by a bit of cutting, but when this documentary on the 1939 New York World’s Fair was pruned to fit into an hour-long time slot on PBS, it was diminished by the process. In its full form the movie manages to give those who missed it a very real sense of why virtually everyone over the age of fifty-five seems to have radiant memories of this fair. It sparkled briefly between the twin darknesses of Depression and war, and the poignancy of the hopes for an industrial Utopia that it embodied echoes in Jason Robards’s perfect-pitch narration. Indeed, we see movies, taken with the family’s Kodak Keystone, of ten-year-old Jason enjoying the fair as he absorbs its gospel of aerated bread and city planning and catches a glimpse of the surprisingly naked young women in the amusement area.

The movie’s cast is pretty impressive—Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Mickey Rooney, Billy Rose, Howard Hughes, Ethel Merman, Queen Mary—but the fair itself is the star here, shown to advantage in splendid color footage of sinuous buildings jetting rainbow arcs of water while teardrop-shaped vehicles glide past and crowds of people, oddly modern-looking in their summer clothes, take it all in. It is some indication of the potency of what they were seeing that when the present writer brought his son and daughter, then aged sixteen and fifteen, to see this movie, the two kids emerged in tears, filled with near-desperate longing to be in Flushing Meadows a lifetime ago.

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