A 60-minute cut of JL Aronson’s documentary “Last Summer at Coney Island” will air on public television starting May 15 at 10 pm and May 16 at 2:30 am on WNET Channel 13. We recommend watching it and then buying the DVD with the full 90-minute version and a host of extras, including “Since Last Summer,” in which the film-maker narrates a candid update. “The City bought the land from Thor that they could have purchased at the start for less money, but then they would have been the ones to evict old timers who had been in Coney Island for decades,” he says.
When “Last Summer at Coney Island” premiered in August at BAM, the audience got teary eyed during the scene in which Astroland’s lights were extinguished, ride by ride, for the final time, and the illuminated Astrotower made its last descent. Many of us had attended the amusement park’s closing ceremony on September 7, 2008 after rallying unsuccessfully for one more year.
The next summer felt like another last summer for Coney Island. Real estate speculator Joe Sitt held Coney Island hostage as the City’s rezoning plan, which would approve high rise hotels on Sitt’s land on the south side of Surf Avenue, moved inexorably toward approval.
“Last Summer at Coney Island” chronicles Coney Island’s redevelopment hoopla with riveting scenes featuring Thor Equities CEO Joe Sitt and Astroland owner Carol Hill Albert, as well as historian Charles Denson, Lola Star Boutique owner Dianna Carlin, City Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr, and then-CIDC president Lynn Kelly, among others. Aronson’s film ends with the City Council passing the rezoning in July 2009.
“The rezoning plan quickly became a sideshow itself, if not the main attraction,” says Aronson in the epilogue. “After shooting for a couple of years, I had to conclude the story at some point, and at a point that made sense, without waiting to see what might inevitably get built. If past lessons of Coney Island development tell us anything, it is that this process can take a very, very long time.”
Other extras on the DVD include an “Easter egg” with Coney’s “Unelected Mayor” Dick D Zigun. We found the hidden feature –it’s Zigun’s fiery speech at a hearing on the rezoning at which he resigned as a Director of the Coney Island Development Corporation in protest of “a deeply flawed plan.”
“Astroland” has interviews with longtime employees of the park, who consider themselves brothers and sisters, while “The Cyclone” focuses on Gerry Menditto, the now-retired manager of the landmark roller coaster. “The Friendly Butcher of Mermaid Avenue” is Jimmy Prince, who retired in 2009 after 60 years at a meat market beloved by the neighborhood. “The Ward family” features Jack Ward, who passed away last year, and whose family was the oldest property owner in Coney Island before selling their parcel to the City.
In fact so much has changed since “Last Summer at Coney Island,” about the only places in the film that look the same are the Thor-owned Grashorn building with its perpetual “for lease” sign and the landmark Cyclone, Wonder Wheel and Parachute Jump. Since Luna Park opened last summer followed by Scream Zone this spring, it feels like the beginning of a new Coney Island, though the future depicted in the City’s renderings, with hotel towers on Surf Avenue and glittering high rise condos to the west and north of MCU Park, is still a long ways off.
The hour-long cut of “Last Summer at Coney island” is scheduled to air on the following PBS stations:
WNET/Thirteen – New York – Sunday, May 15 – 10pm
WNET/Thirteen – New York – Monday, May 16 – 2:30am
NJN – New Jersey Public Television – Tuesday, June 21 – 10pm
WLIW/21 – New York – Tuesday, June 28 – 10pm
KQED – San Francisco – Saturday, July 23 – 6pm
KQED – San Francisco – Tuesday, July 26 – 11pm
More stations to be announced.
Related posts on ATZ…
May 2, 2011: Men in Black 3 Set Transforms Coney Island Boardwalk
April 2, 2011: Coney Island 2011: Free Movie Screenings on the Beach
January 27, 2011: Video: Coney Island: Secrets of the Universe by Charles Denson
September 20, 2010: Movie Monday: Teaser Trailers from the Coney Island Film Festival