Directed by Francis Thompson and Alexander Hammid
Written by Francis Tompson, Alexander Hammid, Edward Field
Narrated by Edward Field
Most of the exhibits of the New York World’s Fair were real: models and buildings that portrayed the future and the past. But one of the most acclaimed exhibit of the fair was the Johnson’s Wax pavilion – a short movie called to be alive!
Part of it was a gimmick. This was a few years after Cinerama brought the (mixed) wonders of a super wide screen to theaters, but the fad had not quiet died yet. To be alive! tried something similar, but instead of having three cameras projecting across one extra wide screen, it use three regular-sized screens separated by a foot of black. This was easier to deal with technically, and audiences learned to ignore the black space immediately.
The movie is the musings of a narrator, who, tired of the rat race,* starts to wax poetic about how things were when he was a child. The movie starts with the life of a child, and then follows a life span as it celebrates human existence.
The strength of the film is in its images, which show people from all over the world, doing what the love and enjoying the world around them. The three-screen format was a feast for the eyes.
The film was a sensation. The New York Critics Film Circle gave it a special award, unprecedented for a nontheatrical film. It was considered ineligible for an Oscar because of its format, so they cut it down into on single-screen version that played in LA and won the award for documentary short. While still inspiring, the movie loses much of its impact when you cut out 2/3rds of the images. Here’s a look:
The movie, like most of the World’s Fair, was ephemeral, more so because it required special equipment to project it. But it was a minor masterpiece that deserves to be remembered.
*The images were very similar to those used years later in Koyaanisqatsi