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Posts Tagged ‘silent film’

Oh joy! Oh bliss, wait till you see this! We just happened to come across raw footage shot in 1960s and perhaps 1950s Coney Island from the collection of Anthology Film Archives. The first clip titled “Coney Island – Night – Silent work-print” has atmospheric scenes of a grand carousel, amusement games and Nathan’s packed with people. Based on the signage and prizes–games where you can win teddy bears and table lamps for a quarter–the era is the late 1950s or early ’60s. Frankfurters cost 20 cents and knishes and chow mein are 15 cents.

Do you remember the carousel in the clip? It’s not the B&B Carousell, which is returning to Coney Island next year. Historian Charles Denson tells ATZ it looks like a carousel on the Boardwalk at 16th Street that was operated by the McCullough family. It was called the Steeplechase Carousel. In the film, you can actually see “Steeplechase Carousel” lettered on the back of the ride attendant’s shirt. He’s one of the guys with a cigarette dangling from his lips as he straps kids on the horses. Before you say eeewww, remember this was back in the “good old days,” when it was normal for people, especially James Dean-esque ride boys, to chain-smoke. Other clues to the carousel’s identity are the mesmerizing animated figures on the band organ and a bell inscribed 1943.

In the Nathan’s scene, men in white paper hats flip a dozen hot dogs at once and neatly place each order on a silver pedestal cake stand. Condiments are served in a communal bowl! Besides hot dogs, Nathan’s had roast beef, barbecue, chow mein and “crispy pizza.” Are you ready for lunch yet?

The second Coney Island clip is described as unsplit 8mm, color, silent, Summer 1969, from the Bob Parent Collection. We were excited to find rare footage of what appears to be the Flying Saucer in action at Astroland’s Kiddie Park. It was among the first rides in the park, which was “Born at the Dawn of the Space Age.”

The AFA has a large uncatalogued collection of unedited amateur films from Parent, a famed photographer of jazz musicians who also made 8MM films and wrote a column for the movie magazine Take One. What other gems will be discovered in the collection?

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La Marcus Thompson’s Gravity Switchback Pleasure Railway debuted in 1884 in Coney Island on the site where the Cyclone thrills today. Film footage doesn’t exist since the Kinetoscope wasn’t invented until the 1890s, but this documentary short by British filmmaker R.W. Paul shows patrons at an English fairground enjoying a Switchback Railway in 1898. We love the little boy running up to see the coaster and hope that he got a chance to ride!

Thompson’s 1885 patent was titled “A Roller Coasting Structure” and his gravity-powered ride which took its inspiration from a mining railway is known as America’s first roller coaster. In Coney Island, the first cars seated passengers sideways and went 6 miles per hour over 600 feet of undulating track. When people waited on line for up to three hours to ride, a reporter for the New York Sun proclaimed that “Coasting” was all the rage in Coney this season. As for the nickel ride: “It combined the effect of seasickness, imparted by the primeval swing, with the rush of a runaway ice wagon on a down grade; but besides all this there is a feeling of sailing through space which is elsewhere unattainable without the assistance of a balloon.”

By 1888, Thompson had been granted 30 patents and had built at least 20 roller coasters in the U.S. and 24 more abroad including several in the U.K., according to Robert Cartmell’s The Incredible Scream Machine.

Switchback Railway

Engraving of La Marcus Thompson's Switchback Railway in Coney Island on Opening Day, June 13, 1884

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January 8, 2012: Video of the Day: Coney Island at Night by Edwin S. Porter

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Time travel back to Coney Island at Night in 1905 and see a panoramic view of the magical lights of Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase. This early time exposure was made by pioneering filmmaker Edwin S. Porter, whose use of panning and the first after-dark photography can be seen in films of the 1901 Pan-Am Exposition in Buffalo. The long, sweeping view of Coney Island’s three great amusement parks ends with the camera panning up and down the Dreamland Tower.

According to Charles Musser’s Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company, Edison acquired “the exclusive privilege” for the 1905 season at Dreamland. Other subjects made by Porter under this contract are Hippodrome Races, Dreamland, Coney Island (June 1905), Mystic Shriners’ Day, Dreamland, Coney Island (July 1905), June’s Birthday Party (July 1905), and Boarding School Girls. In this version of the film, the young ladies of Miss Knapp’s Select School go on an outing to Coney Island where they pass through Dreamland’s Creation gate, frolic in the surf and ride Steeplechase’s camels and mechanical Horse Race.

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