THE BOOTLEG FILES: LOUISIANA JOURNEY Image

BOOTLEG FILES 551: “Louisiana Journey” (1987 promotional video highlighting the Louisiana Pavilion at the 1984 World’s Fair).

LAST SEEN: The video is on YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A sorry reminder of an extraordinary debacle.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Completely unlikely.

Thirty years ago, New Orleans threw a party for the world – and the world didn’t bother to show up. The 1984 Louisiana World Exposition holds the sorry distinction of being the only World’s Fair that declared bankruptcy while the event was underway, and it was through a last-minute infusion of government funds (also known as Your Tax Dollars) that the exposition remained open through its scheduled conclusion.

What went wrong? For starters, the event lacked the extravagance and grandeur of such legendary expositions as the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair and Montreal’s Expo 67, nor did it possess the funky charm of the eco-friendly Expo 74 in Spokane or the unique mix of sophistication and down-home fun that laced the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. Instead, it felt like a crappy amusement park rather than an international exposition of culture and technology. And while the fair’s official theme had a well-intentioned environmental theme – “The World of Rivers – Fresh Waters as a Source of Life” – very little of the event’s pavilions or attractions paid much heed to aquatic considerations; indeed, the most popular attraction at the fair was NASA’s Space Shuttle Enterprise. Unsatisfactory promotion, poor feedback from visitors and the uncommonly hot summer weather contributed to lower-than-expected attendance.

Louisiana’s state government decided to host its own pavilion at the fair, and a request for proposals brought in a bid from MetaForm Inc., a New York-based design company that previously designed the U.S. Pavilions at Expo 67 and at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka. MetaForm created a video of its work in New Orleans, with the possible belief that it could be used to leverage future pavilion design assignments at later World’s Fair expositions.

Alas, the Louisiana World Exposition turned out to be the last World’s Fair held on U.S. soil, and the U.S. government withdrew from the Bureau of International Exhibitions in 2001, thus limiting American participation in future World’s Fairs. MetaForm may have also been embarrassed of its work in New Orleans – the promotional video, titled “Louisiana Journey,” was not completed until three years after the fair closed, and it is unclear whether it was ever used to bring new business to the company.

“Louisiana Journey” was also the name of the main attraction at the Louisiana Pavilion: a 14-minute indoor boat ride that passed through a multimedia presentation designed to offer a celebration of the state’s distinctive relationship with the mighty Mississippi River and its various waterways. The video claimed the pavilion could accommodate 5,000 visitors per hour, but the footage clearly showed a much smaller number of people waiting on line for this attraction.

And what did the visitors to “Louisiana Journey” get to see? Well, those who sailed in the somewhat dinky boat ride saw photographic and film imagery of the Bayou, with very brief acknowledgement of the Indian tribes that lived off the land and water before Whitey showed up. Aerial footage offered an overview of marshland, while a slide show of animal photography (complete with accompanying sound effects) gave people a view of the zoological richness of the region.

The architecture along the waterways was also on display. A folk art-worthy depiction of a humble Cajun shack and the imposing power of the antebellum plantations (minus those poor folks picking the cotton in the back acres) were among the structures on display. A mild recreation of the force of hurricane winds on the coastal areas (whooshing sound effects and animated clouds swirling over the boat passengers) offered a vague idea of Mother Nature’s full malice. A very brief glimpse of an oil refinery was presented, although its environmental impact on the waterways is not stated.

Apparently, the MetaForm team had a lot of problems filling 14 minutes with information and material relating to Louisiana’s waterways. As a result, “Louisiana Journey” abruptly switched to land for its second half, focusing primarily on New Orleans’ Mardi Gras (complete with floats and costumed mannequins from the gala celebration). There was also a multi-screen slide show purportedly showing the faces of the state’s diverse demographics.

As a promotional video, “Louisiana Journey” offers absolutely no insight whatsoever into the planning that went into creation of the pavilion and its main attraction. This is strictly a straightforward video record of what visitors saw from their boat ride. Indeed, the videography is so mundane that one could easily imagine the video was shot by some tourist with an over-the-counter camcorder.

And from what could be seen from the passenger’s perspective, the “Louisiana Journey” exhibit is one of the most boring, third-rate amusement park rides imaginable. It offered a shallow overview of Louisiana’s history, culture and ecosystem, and the presentation was so elementary that any adult with a working brain would be bitterly disappointed at the too-obvious material being flashed all over the place.

“Louisiana Journey” makes the bold claim that MetaForm’s pavilion for the state was “the undisputed hit of the fair.” From a historic standpoint, it is easy to understand why this fair flopped so badly. After all, if this dreary attraction was considered the best thing on the fairgrounds, can anyone truly imagine what the rest of the event was like?

(For those interested in learning more about the history of the World’s Fair movement, including the disastrous efforts at New Orleans, I would strongly recommend the excellent documentary “Where’s the Fair?” by Jeffrey Ford. Considering that there has not been a World’s Fair on U.S. soil in 30 years, this is a cultural happening that an entire generation never experienced firsthand and probably knows nothing about.)

As for the video “Louisiana Journey,” I have no idea why it took MetaForm three years to complete and copyright this 10-minute production – I was unable to locate any background material relating to the production of the video – nor am I certain how the company used it. The video is not cited in online biographies and interviews with the company’s president, design legend Jack Masey. The video was never intended for home entertainment release, so there has not been a commercial DVD offering. However, a copy of the video appears to have been obtained by an online fan of Louisiana-related oddities, and this person has placed an unauthorized posting of the video on YouTube.

Yes, “Louisiana Journey” is probably one of the least entertaining videos online today. But its presence offers a wonderfully clumsy clue regarding the embarrassing failure of the Louisiana World Exposition, as well as an unintentionally funny example of how not to create a promotional video. For its low-wattage double-serving of ineptitude, this video deserves to be seen.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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  1. Al Champagne says:

    Wow. The ’84 World’s Fair is seen as a pop culture milestone here and merchandise w/ the logo is plentiful to this day. Not old enough to have gone (or to have remembered it if I had) but looks like only locals were impressed by it.

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