Title: The 1964 World’s Fair
Release Date: 1996
Director: Rich Hanley
The World’s Fairs in New York have long fascinated me, growing up hearing the stories from my parents and playing among the ruins in Flushing Meadow Park as a child. This light documentary narrated by Judd Hirsch captures the wonder of the fair through rich archival footage and interviews with people who were there. It is not an uncritical film, as the Fair did have many contradictions:
- It claimed to be a vision of the future yet it more reflected the recent past of the 1950s than the changing times of the 1960s, completely ignoring environmental and racial justice issues.
- It was the last World’s Fair to take place in a major US city, yet it was designed to emulate and accommodate suburban sprawl.
- The fair welcomed representation of newly independent nations, but also was dominated by corporations that would recolonize them.
- The fair failed to attract the expected number of visitors, yet was often crowded with long lines.
I think the movie could’ve used more interviews with a more diverse group of fair participants. For example, there are lots of Black fairgoers in the archival footage, but none were found to interview. Similarly, they could’ve looked for someone who worked on the fair or protested against it for a less rosey-eyed view than the interviewees who remember having a good time there as a teen.
Still the World’s Fair had a lot of charms, and though the planners did not intend to cater to teenagers, I can see how it became a popular hangout. There are also amusing bits like the quote about the fair being designed by “Michelangelo and Disney” and the unexpected popularity of Belgian waffles. There are also many shots of the early days of my beloved Shea Stadium. It’s a good view of fleeting time and place in New York history.