Expo – Magic of the White City (2005)

by | Sep 30, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Expo – Magic of the White City (2005)

Narrated by Gene Wilder
Studio: Inecom
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DD 2.0
Extras: Commentary track by World’s Fair historian David Cope;
Featurettes: Making the Fair, Art of the Fair, Pictures of the Fair,
Storyboards of the Fair; Commentary tracks on Featurettes by director
Mark Bussler and writer Brian Connelly; Deleted scenes, Trailers for
other Inecom documentaries
Length: 116 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 was the largest such exposition ever
staged. It dwarfed others in that age of expositions and there has been
nothing like it since. The occasion was ostensibly to celebrate 500
years since Columbia “discovered” America, but poor planning resulting
in the Fair opening a year late. The idea was to showcase the world’s
greatest achievements in science, technology and culture, and its
massive grounds were visited by nearly 28 million people. One of the
buildings was at the time the largest building on earth, and the
massive Ferris Wheel (with gondolas holding 40 people each) was
intended to be the equivalent of the  Eiffel Tower at the earlier
Paris Exposition.  All the buildings except one (the present
Museum of Science and Industry) were built out of cheap materials
designed to be razed after the Expo was over (though most of it burned

The script explains not only the Expo itself, but its place in the
broader time and place of the 1890s, which were beset with labor riots
(some right at hand in Chicago), discrimination and  corruption.
Some interesting connections are made, such as the disturbing display
of cannons, machine guns and other arms at the Krupp building presented
by the Germans heralding the coming WWI. Or the bizarre scam the
corrupt mayor of Chicago gave a restaurant to control all the food
services thruout the Expo; no matter where people ate they got
basically the same menu! (It was suggested by the newspapers that
visitors bring their own food.) Visitor comments also add a more
involving feeling to the documentary – such as the general praise of
the Japanese exhibit and its people on a lovely island in the lagoon,
or the preference for the friendly Canadian exhibit by those finding
the British exhibit too stuffy.

Gene Wilder is an excellent narrator and the script is well-written.
The images are varied, including photos from the Expo, drawings,
artists’ conceptions and other still images. The project is hampered by
the absence of any historical motion picture footage at all, and the
frequent inserts of live-action color shots of a dancing girl, a beer
glass, and so on seem jarring and superfluous. It is still just a
documentary using mostly stills;  Ken Burns has a way of making
this form often compelling, but Expo seldom reaches that level. The
images and editing are of high quality and communicate the outrageous
extravaganza very well, but I found the nearly two-hour production a
bit long and never made it to the four featurettes nor to a second
viewing with one of the full-length commentary tracks. I felt that
frankly I had already learned almost more than I originally wanted to
know about the l893 Expo.

– John Sunier

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