'People keeled over in droves': shocking Expo 67 medical film gets rare screening at MUN
Only 2nd time since Expo 67 documentary Miracles in Modern Medicine will be screened
A medical documentary that made audiences faint during its debut 49 years ago is on the screen again Wednesday night in St. John's.
The 19-minute film, Miracles in Modern Medicine, was controversial for its time because audiences had never before had a close-up look at open-heart or brain surgery.
Shot in 1966 at three Montreal hospitals, the documentary opens with a live birth and includes five other major operations that were graphic for viewers before the age of the internet and reality TV.
"You were so close to things you never saw," said director Robert Cordier.
"A baby coming out of its mother, practically eviscerated because all the blood had to be changed, which was forbidden to be seen."
The film was such a shock for viewers at the Man and his Health pavilion at Montreal Expo 67 that a reported 200 people a day fainted while watching it.
"They were passing out and they were put on stretchers, and half of them asked if they could come back and watch the rest of the show," Cordier told CBC's On The Go Tuesday.
Lineups to view the film stretched for hours, and 2.5 million visitors saw the documentary over the six months of Expo 67.
"My thing is, you know, life is dangerous. Live the danger. Do it. Get into it and show it to people and try to touch them," said Cordier, who said he only recently heard from one of the patient's featured in his film.
'A beautiful mélange'
"People keeled over in droves when the general public finally got a look at this kind of thing, which of course just made the film that much more popular," said Steven Palmer, historian of medicine at the University of Windsor.
They were passing out and they were put on stretchers, and half of them asked if they could come back and watch the rest of the show.- Robert Cordier
Palmer, who is originally from St. John's, rediscovered the film at the Library and Archives of Canada.
"The thing is, there were no credits on the film so it was poorly catalogued," he said.
Palmer found production notes, which included the names of people who had worked on the film.
"When I Googled them, my jaw dropped and I said, 'Wow, these were big art people in New York City,'" said Palmer.
"They were at the centre of the art avant-garde at the time."
He tracked down director Cordier in Paris, and the pair arranged to be at Memorial University's screening 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Medical Education Building of the St. John's campus.
This will be just the second time the film has been shown since 1967 — one other screening was held in October 2015 at McGill University in Montreal.
Palmer said it's important to remember Expo 67 was "the biggest cultural event ever held in this country … It was subsequently forgotten, somewhat like this film."
He said the documentary was made by the "elite" of the global art scene and featured medical procedures in Montreal that "were on the cutting edge of medical research at the time, and it was a beautiful mélange."
Miracles in Modern Medicine still looks contemporary, Palmer said, and will still move people viewing it in 2016.
With files from On The Go