Reviews

Amanda Murray

USA, 2013

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 24 May 2013

Source Vimeo

Categories The 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston

Director Amanda Murray’s documentary short World Fair, which had its world premiere at IFFB and eventually took home the Audience Award for short film, offers a brief but engrossing look at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Mixing interviews and spellbinding 16mm color footage, Murray effectively evokes the bygone attraction.

Interviewee Jim Stevenson says that the fair “felt like children were in charge at last,” and it’s easy to believe him when hearing stories about free Coca-Cola and candy, or watching footage of an “aquacade” that looks like an Esther Williams film come to life. The documentary’s participants, each having attended the fair at varying ages, but mostly as young children, emphasize the contrast between the dazzling fair and the bleak daily reality of the Great Depression. For the great many of us who never experienced the fair, and have no firsthand experience of its difficult context, Murray’s short is illuminating.

The amateur 16mm footage provided by Ephraim Horowitz, who attended the fair at age 24, is the documentary’s most indispensable visual element, and Murray makes the most of it, using it to accompany audio of many of her interviewee’s recollections. The slightly distorted colors of the old film give it an appropriately dreamy quality, and images of the fair’s imaginative buildings, extravagant fountains, and whirling rides linger on the brain after the film has finished. Like the footage, much of which includes appearances by Horowitz’s wife, the stories that the interviewees share often gain resonance from how personal and specific they are.

For instance, Stevenson recounts his disappointment at missing out on getting a Heinz pickle souvenir pin, a prized item among his fellow schoolchildren at the time, and another interviewee, Seymour Sorkowitz, admits being fairly unimpressed by his first encounter with television. A prevailing theme in the film is the idea that the fair offered not just a gorgeous escape during a dispiriting era in American history, but also a hopeful glimpse at the innovations just around the corner—from television to flying cars (still waiting on that one). The fair attendees sometimes display small, treasured mementos from the fair – including a commemorative scarf and one of those elusive pickle pins – and Murray’s film feels very much like a cinematic keepsake. It demonstrates the magic of a long-lost, manmade “fairyland,” thoroughly transporting us in the process.

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