Expo – Magic Of The White City: The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair
Sound: B- Extras: B Documentary: A-
The occasional World’s Fair that does happen has
consistently been a great, fascinating event and is always a great subject for
special interest DVD. Image
Entertainment’s 1964 World’s Fair (reviewed elsewhere on this site) has
been a favorite around here for a long time, so when we heard a disc was coming
out on the earlier 1893 Chicago Fair that sounded great to us. Expo – Magic Of The White City (2005)
is the latest documentary DVD from the fledgling Inecom label, whose previous
titles have been a slate of Civil War titles at least as good as those of “Mr.
Linear History” himself, Ken Burns and one on The Johnstown Flood with
Richard Dreyfuss. Those were good, but Expo
is a new peak for the company’s in-house director, Mark Bussler and their
“Minutes Of History” series.
Shot in digital High Definition video and composed of some
live-action footage, tens of thousands of stills, many of which are postcards,
advertisements and other art realizations of the event, this Fair was far more
massive than anyone could imagine.
Besides expanding the city of Chicago itself permanently, almost every
country and up and coming corporation in the world at the time (many of which
still survive) contributed sections, as well as every state in the United
States itself. For two very
entertaining, smart, intense, densely filled hours, Expo covers
virtually every single location and event that happened prior to the Fair in
how it came together, the results of the event, and the aftermath. The many innovations, triumphs and
catastrophes that would mark the 20th Century made their debut here,
from Vaseline to Cracker Jacks, from early weapons of mass destruction to the
massive use of electric light. It was
an inspiration for many writers and inventors, a true glimpse into the
future. In this, there could not
possibly be a better narrator than the original Willy Wonka himself, the great
Wilder’s empathetic read of the Brian Connelly script
takes a painstakingly well researched story and brings it up to a higher level
of excellence that makes this one of the most compelling documentaries we have
seen in a while; a nice break from all political cycle we have been lucky
enough to have recently. In so many
ways, this Fair was the starting gun for the Industrial Revolution, the rise of
the 20th Century city; the kind of city that would become legendary
in films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926, reviewed elsewhere on this
site), Just Imagine (1930) and William Cameron Menzies’ Things To
Come (1936). To its credit, Expo
pulls no punches about the dark side and down side of events at the Fair and
how those who built it could not attend it.
On the other hand, it was, like all the great Fairs,
supposed to show how and why the future can be great and has often done this
with great accuracy. Unfortunately, it
would also show things that were memorable for all the wrong reasons, but
that’s civilization and technology for you.
It becomes ironic how these innovations can go one way or another, while
some of the new inventions go nowhere, which are always a hoot. There are literally hundreds of surprises
here throughout, which this critic will not ruin. All this and much more make Expo – Magic Of The White City
one of the best Documentary and Special Interest DVD titles to date. Then there is the quality of the disc.
The anamorphically enhanced 16 X 9/1.78 X 1 image is said
to be from Bussler’s HD master and it sure looks that way. We have now seen dozens of HD 16 X 9
productions on DVD and this is one of the best-looking to date, with minimal
detail limits, hardly any digititis, good color consistency and picture
richness that could teach larger DVD companies a thing or two. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is not bad, though
the use of the .1/LFE/subwoofer channel is sparse, while Wilder’s voice is not
too forward. This is a very pleasant,
involving combination that only a new HD format is going to be able to surpass.
The extras are also impressive, including an audio
commentary by World’s Fair scholar David Cope that offers a whole new
perspective on the fair as you watch the original program. That is such a refreshing change form
commentaries that feel more like animated radio or bad radio sports
journalism. The four featurettes show
just how hard this was to make, with a couple of commentary options for each,
all to be watched after you see the feature. You also get previews for the other impressive “Minutes Of
History” series titles, which we will be reviewing on this site, and eight
deleted scenes that prove this could have gone on even longer.
This is such a strong work that if it catches on, it could
potentially become an Oscar® nominee for Best Documentary. Though the director has the final say, some
of the deleted scenes ought to be reintroduced into the body of the work. Either way, along with the current independent
hit Murderball, Expo – Magic Of The White City is in the lead for
such recognition and deservedly so.
This is the kind of surprisingly good release that people expect when
they buy a DVD player in the first place.
Don’t miss it!
- Nicholas Sheffo