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Cinematic history

Lost Expo '67 medical film classic rediscovered, on-campus screening

Campus and Community

By Janet Harron

Miracles in Modern Medicine, a film screened only once since its controversial debut during Montreal’s Expo ’67, is being screened on Memorial’s St. John’s campus March 9.

Robert Cordier, the film’s director, will be in attendance.

Shot in 1966 at the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Montreal General Hospital, the Hotel Dieu, and the Montreal Rehabilitation Institute, the 19-minute film documents six medical interventions in a cinematic consideration of the marriage of humans and machines at vital medicalized moments.

“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.” — Dr. Steven Palmer

Mr. Cordier (Injun fender, 1974) was then at the heart of the avant-garde theatre, film and performance art scene in New York; cinematographer John Palmer (Ciao! Manhattan, 1972) was known for his work in the Warhol Factory.

Archival discovery

Mr. Cordier will be joined by historian of medicine Dr. Steven Palmer, University of Windsor, who rediscovered the film at Library and Archives Canada.

According to Dr. Palmer, who is originally from St. John’s, the graphic medical film was such a shock for viewers at the 1967 Montreal World Exhibition (Expo ’67) that a reported 200 people a day fainted while watching it.

A film still of open-heart surgery from Miracles in Modern Medicine.
A film still of open-heart surgery from Miracles in Modern Medicine.

He says it is difficult for a contemporary audience to grasp the stir the movie caused, since people are now bombarded with graphic images on television and movies. In that time period only medical trainees had visual media access to things like open-heart surgery or brain surgery, two of the closeup procedures featured in the film.

2.5 million visitors

“Even a live birth, which opens the film, is something only midwives or obstetricians would see in a training setting,” said Dr. Palmer, who is the Canada Research Chair in History of International Health. “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—lineups stretched for hours, and 2.5 million visitors saw the film over the six months of Expo ’67.”

Dr. Palmer will offer a  commentary on the Montreal medical community’s leadership role in establishing the Expo theme pavilions as well as a reconstruction of the Man and His Health/L’homme et le santé pavillon, and its core Meditheatre performance space where the film was screened. Following the screening, Mr. Cordier will be interviewed by writer Edward Riche.

Mr. Riche and Dr. Palmer are currently collaborating on a documentary about Mr. Cordier’s life and work.

Miracles in Modern Medicine – 1967 is being presented by the Office of the Provost and Vice-President (Academic) and the Faculty of Arts.

The event is open to all and will take place on Wednesday, March 9, at 7:30 p.m. in room M1M101, Medical Education Building. Parking is available in lots 9 and 9L.


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