American Experience: Coney Island

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Overview

The emergence of American mass culture is intimately connected to the history of Coney Island. From the mid-1800s, New York's Coney Island emerged as a playland where the fabulous and fantastic met. Coney Island is Ric Burns' loving documentary about a unique time and place in American history where both the hot dog and the roller coaster were invented. The largest herd of show elephants, a miniature village of hundreds of midgets, and many fantastic sideshows were all the unique properties of this resort ...
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Overview

The emergence of American mass culture is intimately connected to the history of Coney Island. From the mid-1800s, New York's Coney Island emerged as a playland where the fabulous and fantastic met. Coney Island is Ric Burns' loving documentary about a unique time and place in American history where both the hot dog and the roller coaster were invented. The largest herd of show elephants, a miniature village of hundreds of midgets, and many fantastic sideshows were all the unique properties of this resort district. An elegant documentary, Coney Island tells the story of the rise and eventual decline of a slice of modern life. ~ Cara Saposnik
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Special Features

Closed Caption
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide
Produced for PBS' American Experience series, Coney Island was Ric Burns' second project independent of his brother Ken and is an astounding historical documentary. It parallels the growth of Coney Island with America's rise to power, from the late 19th century to the present day, divided into four phases: Coney Island's genesis as a day-tripping retreat for New Yorkers; the golden age of the three great theme parks Dreamland, Steeplechase, and Luna Park; the popularity of the boardwalk per se; and the plummet into ghost-town desolation. Recalled in extraordinary archival images, the energy of the age is palpable: the novelty of electricity, the defiance of gravity, the sexual energy of young patrons, and the rush of the mechanical horses in the Steeplechase. Along with stills, like Weegee photos and promotional materials, the documentary draws on newsreels, Edison's very first kinescopes, comedy shorts, and silent features like King Vidor's The Crowd. While not ignoring the corruption, poverty, exploitation, and hazardous conditions at the parks, Coney Island deals with the darkness beneath the parks' bright surfaces with discretion, resisting the urge to play every clown image for maximum Carnival of Souls eeriness. The narration, both in its writing and frank delivery by Philip Bosco, is illuminating, unobtrusive, and at times almost comically understated. The interviews with historians are similarly succinct. Somewhat less effective are the long-winded ramblings of historical figures like Henry James and Sigmund Freud, read by actors. "Grandpa Munster" Al Lewis, who worked Coney as a boy, emerges as the primary interview subject. His wild hair and broad smile are reminiscent of the Steeplechase's grinning mascot, and he evokes nostalgia for a time when the theme parks, ramshackle and unsafe as they may have been, offered something of the anarchic release that they promised and not the heavily controlled experience they are today.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 3/21/2006
  • UPC: 841887050562
  • Original Release: 1993
  • Rating:

  • Source: Pbs (Direct)
  • Region Code: 1
  • Presentation: Pan & Scan
  • Time: 60:00
  • Format: DVD
  • Sales rank: 6,538

Cast & Crew

Technical Credits
Ric Burns Director, Producer
Lisa Ades Co-producer
Paul Barnes Editor
Buddy Squires Producer
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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- American Experience: Coney Island
2. Introduction [5:45]
3. Sodom-by-the-Sea [7:16]
4. Escape From Respectibility [3:10]
5. City of Fire [5:27]
6. Luna Park [6:30]
7. Dreamland [6:26]
8. Perfecting the Pleasure Principle [8:26]
9. May 27, 1911 - Dreamland Burns [6:40]
10. The Nickel Empire [9:55]
11. Forever Closed - But Not Forgotten [6:36]
12. Credits [3:16]
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Menu

Disc #1 -- American Experience: Coney Island
   Play Movie
   Scene Selections
   PBS.org
   American Experience
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    THE FINEST BURNS DOCUMENTARY

    I own all the documentaries of Ric and Ken Burns...and I mean ALL of them. But this early film, one of Ric Burns. first, is still my favorite. Forget everything you think about Coney Island today, because a century ago it was the center of the universe. People came from all over the world to experience the three great amusement parks which stood there. They were more like World's Fairs than amusement parks, introducing the world to electric lights, motion pictures, "infant incubators", and the like. Burns uses beautiful old footage and haunting music to recreate a time and place you can scarcely believe actually existed. Lasting only a few short years before burning to the ground, this Coney island was an amazing, frightening, mind-boggling place, and Ric Burns brings it back to life expertly. You'll never think of Coney island in the same way again!

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