A remarkable series of amateur reels, amounting to more than 6 hours in total, covering the 1939–40 New York World’s Fair which took place on a 1,216 acre area of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and which saw over 44 million people in attendance. The exposition was themed on the “World of Tomorrow”, a theme which makes it all the more fascinating viewing today, more than 75 years later. As the official pamphlet explains:
The eyes of the Fair are on the future — not in the sense of peering toward the unknown nor attempting to foretell the events of tomorrow and the shape of things to come, but in the sense of presenting a new and clearer view of today in preparation for tomorrow; a view of the forces and ideas that prevail as well as the machines. To its visitors the Fair will say: “Here are the materials, ideas, and forces at work in our world. These are the tools with which the World of Tomorrow must be made. They are all interesting and much effort has been expended to lay them before you in an interesting way. Familiarity with today is the best preparation for the future.
This particular footage, held by the Prelinger Archive, is remarkable for a variety of reasons. Firstly, for the insight it gives us to the physical reality of the fair. One stand out element is the huge number of acts and shows involving female nudity of some kind, though this may tell us as much about the tastes of the cameraman as about the surprisingly liberal (and sexist) attitudes of the time. Apparently after one particular topless show called “Living Magazine Covers”, the NYPD made a sweep of the fair to tone down the sexual content of some of the girls shows, only to then label them as “art”. Secondly, although cited as being taken by an “amateur”, this was evidently a pretty serious hobby for the man behind the camera Philip Medicus. The six reels, most likely shot an a Magazine Cine-Kodak camera, in total run to just over 6 hours which would have amounted to more than 100,000 ft of the latest and rather expensive Kodachrome film. This is not taking into account anything left of the cutting room floor. It is likely to have taken weeks if not months to shoot. As the website 1939nyworldsfair.com tells us: “Very little is known about the photographer other than that he lived in New York City, was financially well off, and traveled extensively. He was also a prominent amateur photographer and a noted collector of swords.”
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