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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

From the NFB archives: 23 Skidoo

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23 Skidoo
Julian Biggs, 1964, 8 min 12 sec

“If you erase the people of downtown America, the effect is bizarre, not to say disturbing. That is what this film does. It shows the familiar urban scene without a soul in sight: streets empty, buildings empty, yet everywhere there is evidence of recent life and activity. At the end of the film we learn what has happened.”

The National Film Board recently launched a new digital archives, still in beta version, at which you can watch hundreds of films and animations. Through the decades, the NFB has done a lot to document the life and culture of Montreal, from lengthy documentaries about postwar urban renewal projects to animations based on the stories of Mordecai Richler. In fact, the NFB has made enough great stuff about Montreal that we’ve decided to bring it to you with “From the NFB archives,” a new thrice-weekly feature (on Monday, Wednesday and Friday).

First up is 23 Skidoo, an odd and interesting little film that includes scene after scene of eerily-deserted 1960s Montreal. We float through the West Island suburbs, NDG, downtown, Old Montreal and the airport, all devoid of life. I’ll let you figure out the reason for that for yourselves (it’s pretty obvious, when you consider the Cold War context) but the film goes to great lengths to point out that it is the interaction between humans and their built surroundings that give cities their reason for being. Take that away and they’re just empty shells.



  1. Wow!
    Ça change de la ville animée.
    Comment ont-il faient pour filmer de cette façon?
    Tout est vide-vide de vie.

  2. Please tell us the reason for this evacuation of Montreal! I don’t get it!

  3. Wow, thanks for finding this. I remember being shown this movie in grade school (we had NFB movies, it seemed, every other day or so), although I distinctly remembered it being in colour and not black-and-white. I’ve been looking for it for years, wondering what it was called!

    The shot of the Gazette (or was it the Montreal Star?) newsroom with nary a computer in sight is fascinating, as are all the shots of pre-skyscraper Montreal…

  4. Thanks for posting this! I like, too, your point that it is “the interaction between humans and their built surroundings that give cities their reason for being.” Yes! Both!

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