There is a marvellous range of photographs and moving pictures in this documentary. But the film is more than just a treat for the eyes. What holds this all together is the history. How did the history and development of Manhattan affect Coney? How did immigration prompt its growth? What effect did the emergence of mass transportation have on Coney?
And of course, the converse is true: What effect did Coney Island have on New York and the world? It is here where the documentary really succeeds! Coney Island would redefine leisure, entertainment, and, above all else, imagination for the modern era. Luna Park, Dream Land, Steeplechase were all designed to inspire hearts and minds, and not just provide thrilling rides. (Of course, thrilling rides were a big part of it, too. The roller coaster was invented in Coney Island, after all. And where else would the WONDER WHEEL and CYCLONE thrive?) With its preoccupation with the new and the unusual, the inventor of incubators for human infants was finally given a forum to display his life-saving machine in Coney Island! And what other place would make such an exciting subject for the new film-making business? All these considerations are painstakingly examined by Ric Burns' eye and ear. This is not to say that CONEY ISLAND is a dull, research-like documentary. Burns' great gift for entertaining while educating is undeniable, and his greatest asset as a documentary film-maker.
author of The Five Points
I hardly know where to begin...from the priceless archival footage, the sounds incorporated, the utterly accurate representation of history - it all deserves to be held in high praise. The commentary, and voice-overs, from great intellectual figures of our time certainly doesn't hurt, either - their readings from such as Maxim Gorky, George Tilyou, etc. are perfectly chosen, and beautifully phrased. Fantastic.
The footage deserves a paragraph all its own - this alone is cause for viewing, and purchase. Long-lost rides such as the Leapfrog Railway, Witching Waves, Virginia Reel, Steeplechase and Chute the Chutes are shown in all their glory, at correct film speed (an unfortunate rarity). Such a pleasure to view these images! I can't put it into words! The skylines of Luna Park and Dreamland sparkle as those who remember dreamily describe, and the interior of Steeplechase spins and buzzes with ineffable gaiety. Why, oh why can't we have such glories again?! Alas - such innocent times are gone forever. All the more reason that such archival films are so important.
The history of the parks is right on target, and depicted with interest and enthusiasm. Even those who couldn't care less about amusement parks will surely find themselves rather riveted - it's a fascinating story. The tales of sheer will and determination of the businessmen of early Coney Island is incredibly impressive, and their sense of survival in the face of disaster serves as a real inspiration.
Overall, need I even say it, I would recommend this film to anyone - it's fascinating viewing, and a marvelous look at a sorely underappreciated part of American history.
Eli Wallach, Philip Bosco and others narrate a way of life for the residents of Brooklyn Ny. at the beginning of the 20th century. Its important to know how folks played in an era that was distant but seemingly close to the vest.
Steeple Chase Park, Luna Park and Dreamland are the places that wonders and amazement exist in a surreal fashion. " When you mix sand with water..it becomes a beach.." ( Al Lewis). But even more so we see a window for youthfull intoxications on display here. Could it be possible that one of those people could have been YOU?
Fire finally destroys Dreamland and all that is left is the little waltz " Meet me tonight in ..." The question is was it all a dream or does it just seem like it was? It just looks like an old movie set now....but for those golden moments it was fun and a release ..for our troubles ...that was a time