Monday, 18 March 2019

Expo 58 (2006)

Expo 58 seen through the eyes of film-makers who record their times with the fascination of the contemporary observer. The main focus is on the Atomium, the symbol of Expo 58, and also widely symbolic of the new atomic age. On this dvd 10 films by Paul Flon, Gaston Schoukens, amateur filmer Maurice Lefèvre and a whole series of anonymous film-makers. The articles in the book by Marc Reynebeau, Diane Hennebert, Rika Demets, Mil De Kooning and Johanna Kint provide the necessary background and context to the films on the dvd. The 1958 World's Fair, also known as Expo 58, marked the beginning of the "modern era" in Belgium. If we are to believe the Expo rhetoric, humanity was entering a new phase. Universal brotherhood would soon put an end to war and inequality between peoples.

Science and technology would enable humanity to solve all its problems. Manual labour would be replaced by machinery, ideally powered by nuclear energy. And in daily life machines would take up a permanent place as the friends and servants of mankind. For the housewife, the days of drudgery were over – the washing machine, the refrigerator, the food processor had arrived. In a word, the future would be light. Work in the modern era meant pressing buttons and flicking switches. Houses would be glass boxes bathed in light, like the pavilions on the Expo site. Buildings would cease to groan under the weight of bricks as lighter materials took their place. New, shiny surfaces would give a futuristic look to the present day. Although the structure and ideology of society had not yet changed, anyone visiting the Expo knew that a new era was dawning. In hindsight, of course, we know what we were witnessing was not the dawning era of brotherhood, wisdom and eternal peace, but rather the definitive emergence of the consumer society in Belgium.

Almost 50 years have passed since then and we are living in a very different era. But thanks to this DVD – one of the products of our digital age – you can be transported back in an instant to the world of the late 1950s. "Expo 58" is a pilot project for the Belgian Royal Film Archive, the first of a series in which audiovisual source material relating to key moments in the collective memory of the past 100 years will be made available on DVD to a wide public. The 10 films contained on this DVD are each documents of their period, made by film-makers who were very much involved with their time and whose reports of events express the values and the fascination of contemporary observers, without the hindsight that often distorts the historical picture. The Atomium occupies a central place on this disc. The prologue to the DVD explains how the symbol of Expo 58 was also more widely symbolic of the new atomic age. The chapter "For a more human world" takes a closer look at the ideology that lay behind Expo 58, with two films, made to promote and justify the World's Fair, offering an insight into the spirit of the time. The three films in chapter 3 focus on the building and engineering work carried out in the run-up to the World's Fair, both at the Expo site itself and elsewhere in the city of Brussels. In the central chapter "Promenade", three different guides take us on a tour of the World's Fair. We end this first trip down memory lane with an epilogue in which the spiritual father of the Atomium, André Waterkeyn, speaks briefly about the project. More analysis, interpretation and background to the 1958 World's Fair can be found in the four texts contained in the booklet accompanying the DVD:

Marc Reynebeau explores the social background of 1950s Belgium, Diane Hennebert narrates the Expo itself, Rika Demets and Mil De Kooning discuss design and architecture and in the final text Johanna Kint takes a more in-depth look at the different films included on the DVD. My sincere thanks go to the authors and to everybody else involved with the project, to the owners of the film material rights, to the King Baudouin Foundation which has made this DVD possible, to the Brussels heritage unit, Erfgoedcel Brussel, for its support, and finally to the editorial team who designed the DVD: Grace Winter, Bruno Mestdagh, Francis Malfliet, Stefan Frank, Rika Devos, Mil De Kooning, Johanna Kint, Mieke Maes and Tim Van der Poel. We hope that you will share our fascination, not only for Expo 58 but also for the magic of the moving images contained on this disc, images which take us back, in an almost physical way, to a time and a place that now exist only in the basements of film archives. (courtest of Erik Martens, CINEMATEK)

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