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McLuhan’s Wake

Distributed by National Film Board of Canada, 1123 Broadway, Suite 307, New York, NY 10010; 800-542-2164
Produced by Primitive Entertainment in co-production with the National Film Board of Canada; Michael McMahon, Kristina McLaughlin, Gerry Flahive, and David Sobelman, producers
Directed by Kevin McMahon
VHS, color, 94 min.
College - Adult
Biography, Canadian Studies, Journalism, Media Studies, Social Sciences

Reviewed by Margaret M. Reed, Riley-Hickingbotham Library, Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, AR


Marshall McLuhan may have been outcast by his peers in academia, but in the 20+ years since his death, intellectuals are rediscovering the man who predicted that society would evolve into a “global village” where “the medium is the message.”

McLuhan’s Wake attempts to revive an awareness of and an appreciation for McLuhan’s provocative ideas on how mass media and technology shape us individually and culturally. Deeply influenced by his study of literature, language, and history, McLuhan explored connections across many disciplines to demonstrate their contribution to human communication. The culmination of his efforts – the four laws of the media – is central to the film.

The documentary’s most artistic device is its visual portrayal of a metaphor McLuhan often used to illustrate technology’s impact on society: our innovations and reliance on gadgetry has created a culture that is like an unavoidable, engulfing vortex. To convey McLuhan’s multidimensional perspective of this chaotic existence, the film utilizes a variety of media forms – archival footage, personal interviews, animation, and special effects. This layered presentation of images makes the documentary a bit disjointed and slow-moving at times, which may be difficult for a general audience to follow. McLuhan’s Wake seems more fitting for graduate-level or special studies courses in communication theory, mass media, and psychology. To enhance their understanding of the film, viewers may find the publisher’s companion Web site helpful.

Directed by award-winning film maker Kevin McMahon, McLuhan’s Wake was the only Canadian film invited to screen at the 2002 Documentary Festival at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City.