Stumbled upon this fascinating documentary about Montreal, released by the NFB in 1992.
It explores what seems to be a favoured theme amongst local documentarians – the city in a state of transition.
1992 was one of those years – an anniversary year, the city’s 350th. The city had been remodelling itself in preparation for the anniversary for the preceding six years, largely under the direction of the DorÃ© administration.
The emphasis was principally on city beautification, though two iconic skyscrapers – 1250 RenÃ©-LÃ©vesque Ouest and 1000 de la GauchetiÃ¨re – would join the skyline, completing a broader effort to increase class-A office real-estate in the city (the redevelopment of McGill College and the Montreal World Trade Centre occurred at roughly the same time). There are some excellent shots of the towers going up.
This is also the time the Biodome and Biosphere came to be, new parks and public spaces were created, museums expanded etc. The film seems to switch back and forth between optimism for what the future might hold and a somber reflection on an apparent loss of status. The film presents reflections on the city as love letters.
It can be ironic in hindsight, albeit understandably so given the context of the city at that time. Early on the narrator bemoans the ‘loss of port and rail, the over-reliance on cars and how we’ve fallen behind in public transit’.
Today we would see things a bit differently – 1992 was 21 years ago after all, and times and attitudes really do change. Today’s public transit network is fairly sophisticated and broader than it was back then. We’re still over-reliant on cars but at the very least urban depopulation may have been somewhat successfully cut back. As to the port, well it moved further east, out of sight but hardly out of mind. And we’re still the rail king of North American cities, not to mention the interaction between these elements of our infrastructure maintains our position as a leader in transportation.
This film is heavy on design and architecture in a way that reminds me of what seemed to be a trend from the era. I remember a host of books published at the time, not to mention the recent arrival of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and all of it coming together in a kind of architectural reawakening, as though the citizens saw the gems that lay before them for the first time.
Like we all suddenly realized ours is a good looking city only when the film crews starting popping up all over the place throughout much of the 1990s.
In any event, have a look – I’m sure you’ll enjoy. A must for all Montrealophiles.