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Coney Island: American Experience [Import]

7 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Format: NTSC, Import
  • Language: English
  • MPAA Rating: UNRATED
  • Studio: Pbs (Direct)
  • VHS Release Date: July 25 2000
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00004U27X

Product Description

What had been a wasteland of sand dunes on the Brooklyn oceanfront became the nation's playground for decades, and as historian David McCullough notes while introducing this documentary, "There had been other amusement parks, but there was only one Coney Island." At its peak in the early decades of the 20th century, Coney Island actually boasted three enormous amusement parks, and their stories, and the stories of some of the millions of revelers who flocked to them, are beautifully told in this film by Ric Burns. Combining well-chosen archival photographs with poignant excerpts from letters and diaries, Burns explores the nation's fascination for Coney Island in some depth. Vintage films of rides that appear too treacherous to exist in our own litigious society are amusing, but as befits an episode of PBS's American Experience, there is also some serious discussion of how reformers felt a playground for crowded city dwellers was a necessary component of a healthy society. Coney Island was a zany place, and glimpses of the rides at Steeplechase Park, the amazing lighted rooftops at Luna Park, and the bizarre entertainments at Dreamland (such as a staged tenement fire, which blazed twice daily) provide a wistful look at a vanished American past. --Robert J. McNamara

From the Back Cover

An "Electric Eden"--"fabulous beyond conceiving"--"ineffably beautiful"--"Sodom by the Sea." To the millions who poured into the mesmerizing seaside amusement empire as the twentieth century dawned, Coney Island was all this and more. The birthplace of the hot dog and the roller coaster--and the most dazzling laboratory of mass culture the world has ever seen--Coney Island and its three extraordinary amusement parks, Steeplechase, Luna Park, and Dreamland, delighted visitors with the largest herd of show elephants in the world, a spectacular trip to the moon, and infant incubator, and Lilliputia, a miniature town inhabited by 300 midgets. This elegant and absorbing documentary film chronicles the greatest amusement empire the world has ever seen from its emergence in the mid-1800s through its demise after World War II.

Customer Reviews

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Within a few years of this film, Ric Burns would begin creating his monumental NEW YORK documentary. Released in 1991, CONEY ISLAND: THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE shows us an example of a great documentary-maker cutting his teeth and that Burns was well on his way to being one of the greats.
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.
Rocco Dormarunno
author of The Five Points
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I am endlessly amazed by this film - the perfect Coney Island documentary. I have long loved, and studied, the history of this great resort, and could never imagine a better documentary celebrating its past glory, and future prospects.
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.
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By Anonymous on June 29 2003
...and in many ways, Coney Island was. It was a place of youth, fun, irreverance, lightheartedness and as this exquisite documentary points out, a place where people of all social classes got together and mingled. Coney Island was also a place of inventions whether they were incubators for premie babies or plain ol' electric lights. It was a place of magic and wonderment where the waves of the natural seas met the waves of man-made roller coasters; where there were artificial recreations of real life history. It was a world of fantasy and magic, the precursor to all theme parks to come.This documentary is rivetting because it places Coney Island within the context of the early 20th century when there was still much faith in scienctific inventions and progress. And, yes, there was much money.But as we see here, there were some leftover notions of the Victorian age. There was animal cruelty and though the "freak shows" aren't mentioned, it was also a place where human beings with serious genetic disorders and illnesses were caged and gawked at. None of the early footage shows African Americans at Coney Island and one wonders if they weren't allowed to go or if they weren't filmed. It's not mentioned in the doc. And as time passes on, the arrogance of some of its triumphalistic, historical spectacles begin to look somewhat disturbing in light of World War I; the faith in the technology of its splender-filled parks began to wane as fires begin to destroy many of them. Some of the smug notions of the early century are called into question as Coney Island's parks begins to fade. One by one the lights go out.Today, it stands a humbler, more weathered park, as if the horrors of the 20th century took their toll on sand, seas and the Wonder Wheel - which isn't much of a wonder anymore.Read more ›
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