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American Experience - Coney Island
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Before there was Disneyland, there was Coney Island. By the turn of the century, this tiny piece of New York real estate was internationally famous. On summer Sundays, three great pleasure domes--Steeplechase, Luna Park and Dreamland--competed for the patronage of a half-million people. By day it was the world's most amazing amusement park, by night, an electric ""Eden"".
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Even though I grew up in NYC, I never knew the level of grandeur and popularity Coney Island held from the 1890s through the 1940s before seeing Ric Burns' excellent film. The images make it clear it really was a sort of vaguely perverse, but beautiful Disneyland of it’s time; ablaze with lights, inventive rides, and a place where people of all classes and races freely mixed. Gotta love it when a part of the history of your home town is opened up to you, especially in such an entertaining way.
In this, the first of Ric Burns' American Experience documentary films, the dynamic of this unique place is captured so well, I can barely watch it without tears emerging uncontrollably from my eyes.
A must see for anyone interested in New York City, the rise of recreation and amusement in America for the new working class with a day off, amusement parks; and most of all Coney Island itself.
This documentary is extremely well done. The narration is excellent and combines well with the film clips used. The editing is also masterful and helpful to the storytelling. Surprisingly, the film footage is in good condition. Since most of it did not come from a major motion picture, one would think it would be in the same condition as most newsreel footage, but it is clear and watchable. (Ironically, the bit from Clara Bow's "It" is in bad shape; it has since been restored.)
The only major flaw here is the little information provided about the 1920s and 30s. So much is explored from the early 1900s because that is when the amusement parks really took off, but what of the time between that and the collapse? One can get an idea of what it was like based on the film clips, but judging from the bathing suits, most of the clips come from the earliest parts of the century.
Overall, this film is a fascinating look at an era lost to the modern world. It is nostalgic and lovingly told.