Archive for the ‘film’ Category

The Longest Friday of the Year by Jim McDonnell

Ray Valenz and Betty Bloomerz of the Coney Island Sideshow ride the Thunderbolt in this still from Jim McDonnell’s The Longest Friday of the Year

The 15th Annual Coney Island Film Festival kicks off tonight, September 18, with a doc about burlesque duo Trixie Little and The Evil Hate Monkey and an opening night party featuring live sideshow, burlesque and an open bar. This year’s selections include over 100 films in 16 programs, wrapping up on Sunday evening with a roster of Coney-centric films and a Coney Island style awards ceremony at the famed “Bump Your Ass Off” Eldorado Bumper Cars.

Several films screening at the film fest were made by or are about ATZ friends and acquaintances. We asked them to share behind the scenes anecdotes about the making of their films.

Jim McDonnell

Still from Jim McDonnell’s The Longest Friday of the Year

Photographer and videographer Jim McDonnell is following up his 2014 “Made in Coney Island” winning short doc “Thunderbolt” with a documentary feature “The Longest Friday of the Year” (Program 16, Sunday, 6pm). The Friday of the title is June 19, 2015, the first weekend and the first fireworks show of summer and the eve of the Mermaid Parade.

It was my goal to show a day in the life of Coney Island from and give a glimpse into the lives of some of the people that work in the amusement district. There were 11 different people that shot footage for me that I staggered over the course of the day, and that’s not including myself. We shot from 4:30 in the morning until 1:15 the next morning.

Despite only being a one day shoot – it was the largest and most ambitious production I’ve ever done. Some of my cinematographers were Coney greats including Bruce Handy, Eddie Mark, Lloyd Handwerker, Kenny Lombardi and Raymond Adams (just to name a few).

I conducted a total of 22 interviews/conversations but only used 18. Some of the interviewees are DJ Vourderis from the Wonder Wheel; Ray Valenz, Betty Bloomerz and Patrick Wall from Coney Island USA; Louis Beard from Eldorado; and Fernando Velasquez from Luna Park. I really wanted to emphasize the diversity of the community.

This Side of Dreamland by Patrick Reagan and Joshua Glick

Still from This Side of Dreamland, a documentary portrait of banner painter Marie Roberts by Patrick Reagan and Joshua Glick

“This Side of Dreamland” by Patrick Reagan and Joshua Glick (Program 16, Sunday, 6pm) is about Coney Island artist Marie Roberts, whose sideshow banners have emblazoned Coney Island USA’s building since 1997. Lester A. Roberts, Marie’s uncle, was a talker extraordinaire with the Dreamland Circus Sideshow in the 1920s.

I think they looked at a bit of Coney Island through me. I started a painting on camera (which I cursed myself no end for doing, it was the Kavadlo Brothers painting, and I had to use a photo) and I worked over that thing a lot. Patrick’s eye was sensitive, he got my arm painting, which was really the important thing in the shot.

I think they got me, and the culture of the place, the amusement part anyway, and that they did an incredible job in less than ideal situations. They even got the animals. There is a scene in my yard with the Dreamland animals graves and Hyjinx from CIUSA (all buried there). Momma cat appears, Patrick put some animated cats in which I am not wild about but he is.

As the story goes, Lester came back from his traveling sideshow and left the snake and monkey at the house. My father took care of them. Have photo of him and monkey. She died because the house was drafty and she caught a cold. They are buried in the yard along with Hyjinx and my Floyd and Bessie cats. Graves were not marked but my father pointed them out many times. There are flowering bushes there now.

This Side of Dreamland by Patrick Reagan and Joshua Glick

Still from This Side of Dreamland a documentary portrait of banner painter Marie Roberts by Patrick Reagan and Joshua Glick

In previous years at the Coney Island Film festival, Lou Dembrow has shown short docs about John Dorman of Philips Candy of Coney Island, which moved to Staten Island, and Jimmy Prince, who retired from Mermaid Avenue’s Major Market. In 2012, her film about the Wonder Wheel won Best Documentary Short. This year’s entry is “Deno’s 2007, A Kaleidoscope View” (Program 16, Sunday, 6pm).

A kaleidoscope is a cylinder with mirrors that creates a colorful pattern, due to the reflection of beads or pebbles, off the mirrors. I used the ‘mirror’ filter in imovie to create the kaleidoscope effect and edited the film in Final Cut,” says Dembrow. These images from the movie demonstrate the kaleidoscope effect.


Still of Airplane Ride from Deno’s 2007, A Kaleidoscope View by Lou Dembrow

Painter Marc Kehoe, for whom Coney Island has been an inspiration for more than 25 years, is also a film school alum who has two films in Program 2, Saturday, 2pm.

“When” is a film noir set in the near future of a large coastal city- after the climate and environment have radically changed, causing rising waters to engulf the city at unpredictable intervals. Our guide through this disturbingly upended society is the Narrator, an operative who works for The Control an agency or a person that/who maintains order in the city-or what is left of it. The Narrator recalls his own version of what daily existence was before the waters began rising. Love, Art, Freedom & Trust converge during the films climax, in the ruins of what was once the city’s beach resort. It was shot off season in Coney Island, soon after Luna Park was opened. There are shots of the late great AstroTower.

WHEN by Marc Kehoe

WHEN, a film by Marc Kehoe. Program 2, September 19, Coney Island Film Festival

“Ruby’s Last Call,” also by Marc Kehoe, was shot on November 6, 2010. (Luckily, Ruby’s later won a reprieve and a lease.)

“Ruby’s Last Call” records what was touted as the last day of business of Ruby’s Bar and Grill, the venerable Coney institution on the Boardwalk between W 12th Street and Stillwell Avenue. Ruby’s, along with other long-term businesses, was threatened with eviction – at very short notice. The film depicts a celebration/protest featuring Ruby’s daughters Cindy and Melody, patrons and concerned citizens- and music by local bands Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers. The finale features a poetic surprise.

Ruby's Last Call

Michael Sarrel in Ruby’s Last Call, a film by Marc Kehoe

The Plight Of Cecil is the pilot for Carla Rhodes’ upcoming web series starring Cecil Sinclaire and directed by Ed Hellman. Rhodes, who has been a ventriloquist since she was nine, performs monthly at the Slipper Room with her sidekick Cecil in a show featuring burlesque and vaudeville.

“The Plight Of Cecil” is my opus and my attempt to modernize ventriloquism again and break boundaries as an artist. I used such varied inspiration as I Love Lucy, Shari Lewis, The Marx Brothers, Joe Franklin’s Office (for aesthetic purposes) and my head full of geeky ephemera.

I enjoyed adding little touches like casting my actual pet dove, Pearl Friday as Cecil’s secretary. She changes between a real dove and a puppet dove (for action shots) as a throw-back to early TV. I’m such a geek there is even Morse Code in the episode that spells out a hidden message which no one has noticed or deciphered yet. These are little touches that I always loved seeing in TV/film.

The idea behind the series is Cecil Sinclaire is a vaudeville agent in modern times, and I’m his modern assistant. Potential clients come in and audition with the hopes of being added to Cecil’s roster, and each episode is sponsored by a product. Just like early tv!

Related posts on ATZ…

July 14, 2015: ‘Famous Nathan’ Documentary Gets Theatrical Run, VOD and DVD Release

April 22, 2014: ATZ Review: ‘Famous Nathan,’ A Documentary by Lloyd Handwerker

November 15, 2012: ATZ Review: Coney Island Documentary ‘Zipper’ Debuts at DOC NYC

September 27, 2010: Video: The Museum of Wax by Charles Ludlam

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Famous Nathan

Poster for Famous Nathan courtesy Film Movement. Photo of Nathan by Barton Silverman/ New York Times/Redux Pictures

Mazel tov! We’re happy to report that “Famous Nathan,” Lloyd Handwerker’s documentary about his grandfather, who founded Coney Island’s Nathan’s Famous nearly a century ago in 1916, is getting a theatrical run this summer. After premiering last year at the Tribeca Film Festival, the doc screened at film fests from Coney Island to Jerusalem. The film opens on July 17 for a one-week engagement at the Cinema Village in Manhattan, including some Q & A’s with the filmmaker, followed by a July 31-August 6 run at Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills. New York-based indie distributor Film Movement will release the Handwerker doc in North America across multiple VOD and digital platforms on August 4th, with a DVD release on September 29th.

Pieced together over a 30-year period, the film was a labor of love for the filmmaker, who was 17 when his grandfather died. It is also a remarkably candid family memoir. As we wrote last year after seeing the film at Tribeca: Nathan Handwerker, the founder of Nathan’s Famous hot dog empire, is a mythic figure in Coney Island history. The story of the young Polish immigrant working at Feltman’s and saving his salary to open a competing restaurant where hot dogs sold for a nickel instead of a dime is the stuff of legend. His grandson Lloyd Handwerker’s documentary “Famous Nathan” humanizes him and at the same time makes us see that he truly was larger than life.

The documentary is told through home movies, archival photos and footage, the filmmaker’s interviews with a colorful cast of characters including family members and former Nathan’s workers, and the voice of Famous Nathan himself. A 16-minute oral history, condensed from nearly four hours taped by Lloyd’s cousin David Sternshein when their grandfather was 82 is central to the narrative. The cadence of Nathan’s voice and his story reverberate in the imagination even after the film is over: “I want to go to America. I was dreaming about it.”

Famous Nathan directed by Lloyd Handwerker, July 17-23 at Cinema Village, 22 East 12th St, New York, NY. Q & A’s with the filmmaker will be held at the 7pm shows every night, plus the 9pm shows on July 17, 18 and 23, and at the 5pm show on Sunday, July 19.

Related posts on ATZ…

April 22, 2014: ATZ Review: ‘Famous Nathan,’ A Documentary by Lloyd Handwerker

April 8, 2014: Photo Album: Classic Chevrolets at Nathan’s Coney Island

March 6, 2014: Tribeca Film Fest to Premiere ‘Famous Nathan’ Doc by Grandson Lloyd Handwerker

March 24, 2013: “Notorious BOB” and Larell Marie Win Nathan’s Hot Dog Qualifier

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Dunk Tank Clowns

Still from ‘Dunk Tank Clowns,’ a documentary by Daniel McGuire

Daniel McGuire’s documentary short ‘Dunk Tank Clowns’ premieres this weekend at Boston’s Independent Film Festival. “I’m too old for this. I’m glad you came here,” says seasoned clown Kenny Dickman in the trailer. “I’m on my first annual retirement tour. We’re politically incorrect.”

So true. Have you noticed the bozos have disappeared from Coney Island as well as New York City’s street fairs? In 2011, Drown the Clown, which we last photographed in 2009, was banished from Little Italy’s Feast of San Gennaro for being “too raucous” in the increasingly gentrified neighborhood. In Coney Island, the last photos we took were before the Coney Island Rezoning of 2009, which made way for restaurants, retail and condominium development.

Insulting people for a living isn’t as easy as it looks, according to the film’s synopsis. The documentary offers an inside look at the profession by longtime carnival bozos Terry Leonard and Tom Miller, who are seen working fairs in Massachusetts, and Dickman, whose territory is Pennyslvania and was with S & S Amusements the season that we toured with the show. Carnival days!

‘Dunk Tank Clowns’ screens at the Somerville Theatre on Saturday at 10:00pm and Monday at 7:15pm.

Related posts on ATZ…

December 1, 2014: Autumn Reading: Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow!

September 17, 2014: ATZ’s Top 10 Coney Island Film Festival Picks

October 6, 2013: Video of the Day: The Down Home Daredevils

December 8, 2012: Sunday Matinee: Princess Rajah’s Chair Dance (1904)

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Mr. Robot

Notices on Surf Avenue say that Mr. Robot is shooting on Surf Avenue in Coney Island on Tuesday. April 18, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

USA Network’s Mr. Robot, a hacker drama starring Christian Slater, which premieres on June 24, will be filming in Coney Island again on Tuesday. Casting notices say they’ll be shooting exteriors all day. Last October, scenes for the pilot were shot in Wonder Wheel Park.

In the thrilling new trailer for the show, you’ll catch a glimpse of Slater riding in one of the Wheel’s cars with Elliot (Rami Malek), a cybersecurity engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night. Slater’s Mr. Robot is the mysterious leader of an underground hacker group trying to recruit Elliot to destroy the firm he is paid to protect. “What if you could set in motion the single biggest incident of wealth redistribution in history?” Slater asks him as they whirl in the sky over Coney Island.

Last Month, Mr. Robot won the SXSW Audience Award. On April 26, the Tribeca Film Festival will have an advance screening of the pilot episode.

Related posts on ATZ…

March 6, 2014: Tribeca Film Fest to Premiere ‘Famous Nathan’ Doc by Grandson Lloyd Handwerker

September 17, 2013: ATZ’s Top 10 Coney Island Film Festival Picks

December 28, 2012: Amusing the Zillion’s Top 10 Coney Island Videos of 2012

Movember 15, 2012: Zipper: Coney Island Documentary Debuts at DOC NYC

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This 16-minute documentary by Mike Edwards and newly posted on YouTube was made in 1977 to celebrate the Cyclone’s 50th anniversary. It’s fantastic to see the roller coaster in action in the ’70s. The opening sequence features Silvio Pinto, whose family bought and began operating the roller coaster in 1959 before selling it to the City a decade later. The film also stars famed riders Mike Boodley, who rode the Cyclone for 1001 consecutive rides, and Richard Rodriguez, who holds the Guinness World Record for riding the coaster continuously for four days. At the time the film was made, Edwards was a college student in Staten Island. His film was nominated for his school’s “Oscars” and toured NYC Parks with the Parks Foundation’s Filmobile.

As a boy born and raised on three of the 5 boroughs of NYC from 1951 to 1979, a summertime trip to Coney Island was always in the mix. I remember the day while confined to Steeplechase Park, (the grandest kiddie amusement park ever!), when my gaze became transfixed on the world class wooden roller coasters that thundered and squealed off in the distance. I couldn’t wait for the day when I was old enough and big enough to ride these coasters. I measured myself by first getting comfortable riding the Thunderbolt and then the Tornado roller coasters before I felt ready for the Cyclone.

Fast forward to 1977 when I chose the Cyclone to be the subject of a documentary film exercise while attending the very fine Richmond College, an experimental humanities school in the CUNY system, where I was to receive a BA in Cinema Studies. With either a wind-up Bolex 16 or a Bell & Howell Filmo 16mm camera and a 100’ spool of reversal film, I went to visit my subject while under a blanket of snow. Like coming upon a hibernating beast, I kept my distance shooting wide shots without a footprint. Aided by the calm of this early Sunday morning, I could feel a life-force at rest, knowing what was expected of it and what was to unfold in the early spring months. Right there on Surf Avenue, I knew my documentary project would be to explore and maybe expose that this mechanical, inanimate object is actually a being with a distinct personality.

Related posts on ATZ…

September 22, 2012: Saturday Matinee: Coney Island’s Mite Mouse Coaster (1992)

April 21, 2012: Saturday Matinee: A Switchback Railway (1898)

March 10, 2011: Video: Seasons of the Cyclone Roller Coaster by Charles Denson

January 5, 2011: ATZ Saturday Matinee: Shorty at Coney Island

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Coney Island Arbuckle Keaton

Happy New Year! ATZ is still on a holiday schedule, so our first post of 2015 is a classic movie. If you’ve never seen Coney Island, the 1917 silent comedy directed by and starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, with comic actor Al St. John and a young Buster Keaton, you’re in for a treat. If you’ve seen this film before, you know it never gets old.

The 25-minute short opens with stock footage of Coney Island’s Mardi Gras parade and the Electric Eden of Luna Park. The treat is seeing such early amusement rides as the Witching Waves and Chute the Chutes and a High Striker game used as props by masters of slapstick. The storyline has the three comedians competing for Keaton’s date Alice, who goes off first with St. John and then with Arbuckle, who in turn is eluding his bossy wife.

The funniest scenes are when the action shifts from the amusement park to the bathhouse and the beach. Unable to rent a swimsuit– yes, it was once the norm to rent swimsuits!–because of his size, Arbuckle spies the bathing costume of a portly lady and swipes it. He spends the last half of the movie in drag, a popular gag in early films, which he does brilliantly, even as he is battling his rivals and the Keystone Cops.

Chris Edwards’ blog Silent Volume has an insightful essay on Coney Island and Arbuckle, in which he writes:

The great silent comedians all connected with their audiences in different ways. Chaplin mixed his comedy with pathos; Keaton reflected our need for restraint in the face of chaos; Harold Lloyd tried to be average. But Arbuckle engaged the audience directly. The others we watch; with Arbuckle, you often feel as though you’re in on whatever scheme he’s hatched.

Related posts on ATZ…

December 29, 2014: Saturday Matinee: “On The Loose” in Coney Island (1931)

March 3, 2012: Saturday Matinee: Bluto & Popeye, Kings of Coney’s Mardi Gras

August 16, 2011: Video of the Day: “IT Girl” Clara Bow in Coney Island

January 15, 2011: ATZ Saturday Matinee: Shorty at Coney Island

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Released on December 26, 1931, On the Loose stars the comedy team of Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts as two gals whose parade of boyfriends never take them anywhere but Coney Island and they’re sick of it. Giggling as they recall “the refrigerator salesman from Schenectady” and other dates who won the chalkware prizes crowding the mantle in their apartment, they vow that today was their last trip to Coney. Well, of course it wasn’t. By 8:23 in the 20 minute film, the duo are back in Coney Island on a double date with two Englishmen who say it’s “very smart and quite original” and they’re going to do it all.

The gag is that ever since the days of silent movies, Coney Island, with its amusement rides that flung couples into each others arms, has been a popular setting for comedies. Among our faves are Coney Island (1917) with Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton and It (1927), in which Clara Bow plays a shop girl who goes on a first date with her boss to Coney Island, though the film is said to have been made at Ocean Park Pier in California. The Coney Island scenes in Harold Lloyd’s Speedy were shot at four different amusement parks– two in Coney and two in California– according to film historian John Bengtson.

California’s Venice Pier, which like Steeplechase also had a Human Roulette Wheel, rotating Barrel of Love and Giant Slide, was a stand-in for Coney Island in On the Loose. Some of the funniest scenes have ZaSu and Thelma shushing the game attendants who remember them from previous visits and Thelma proving she’s a crack shot at the shooting gallery.

In the last few minutes of the film, Laurel and Hardy make a cameo appearance. We won’t spoil it by telling you what happens when they ask the two woman out on a date to where else but Coney Island. The film was directed and produced by Hal Roach, whose studio also made the Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang comedies.

Related posts on ATZ…

December 8, 2013: Sunday Matinee: Princess Rajah’s Chair Dance (1904)

March 3, 2012: Saturday Matinee: Bluto & Popeye, Kings of Coney’s Mardi Gras

August 16, 2011: Video of the Day: “IT Girl” Clara Bow in Coney Island

January 15, 2011: ATZ Saturday Matinee: Shorty at Coney Island

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