"American Experience" Coney Island (TV Episode 1991) Poster

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Brings Coney Island to Life
FADrury7 October 2003
One of my favorite documentaries! As someone raised in Northern, NJ, I grew up with the stories and memories of relatives who visited Coney Island in its heyday. It was really interesting to get a feel for what it was like for someone in the first half of the 20th Century to go to Coney Island. This documentary achieves that. It also provides some interesting comments on social changes, and how Coney Island relfected them, in the US over 50+ years. A very enjoyable film with a bit of melancholy over what was lost when Coney Island began to fade in importance.
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I loved this but there was way too much 'purple prose' for my taste.
MartinHafer29 August 2011
Although I love watching "The American Experience" DVDs and have bought some for myself, one problem I have with them is that although they are made by PBS (who has a good history of closed captioning with their shows), oddly the DVDs that I have seen do NOT have captioning of any sorts--none. It's a shame, as I a have a slight hearing loss and really don't like cranking up the volume--and would much rather just turn on the captions. Plus, my youngest is deaf and she cannot share these films with me. So, if you like or need captioning, beware.

As for the show itself, there was a lot to like. Seeing the wonderful film clips and stills of the rides, the attractions and the marvelous lights is more than enough reason to see this. Also hearing about some of the seemingly insane exhibits was fascinating. Did you know that at one point they had ethnographic exhibits featuring natives from around the world as well as Midget City to provide merriment and excitement to the masses? Did you know that some of the famous natural disasters and battles were recreated in front of crowds up to 12,000! Did you know that they had a 'leapfrog railway'? And, did you know that for some time the biggest and most successful exhibit was The Incubator--featuring, in total, 8000 premature babies for the public to view!!

Unfortunately, there was one serious problem with the film I really couldn't help but notice. The film abounded with so-called 'purple prose'. In other words, ridiculously worded language that was way out of proportion for the show. The use of words and phrases such as ineffably, realized unconscious of its age, metamorphosed and the like just came off as fake--or like sophisticated people trying to sound better than the masses. And, of all the places, Coney Island is the least appropriate for such elitist language.

By the way, although I've seen the clip a few times, some might be bothered by some actual film footage of an elephant being electrocuted. Just something to think about or skip past. It appears at the 43-44 minute mark.

So my advice is to watch this exciting film...but also realize that there are a lot of fat-heads who cannot communicate in a way that the ordinary person can comprehend OR might laugh at because it comes off, occasionally, as ridiculous. A truly intelligent person does not need to use all this prose to get their point across well.
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A True Wonder in a not so Wonderful World
RDenial19 January 2004
This film is by far the best documentary that I have ever seen. Coney Island is like something out of a fantasy novel. If the filmmakers had not dug up the archival footage, you might doubt that such a place could have existed. If Walt Disney had hired the residents of an insane asylum to design Disneyland, then Luna Park and Steeplechase would have been the result.

Coney Island is still there of course, but the Coney depicted in this film ceased to exist long ago. The 20th Century was born at Coney Island and my guess is that pop culture was as well. My only complaint with this film is that it wasn't twice as long. It only whetted my appetite and sent me in search of books on the place. I would have gave this film a 12 if I would have had the option.
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One of the best documentaries ever
dwcvideo2 November 2006
I first saw this back in 1991, when it premiered, and I fell in love with it back then. I fortunately videotaped it that night, and wore my tape out. Imagine my glee a few months ago when I found this on DVD on Amazon! I immediately bought it and all those old feelings came back.

If you are familiar with the Burns style of documentaries, you'll see that this work is a masterpiece. A mixture of vintage photos as well as authentic film footage, combined with some great music and well-known voice talents creates a solid piece of history. The best part of this video are the interviews with Al Lewis (better known as Grandpa Munster), who experienced it all firsthand and obviously loved every minute of it. This documentary captivated me at age 18, and now at 33 I still wish that I could have experienced the Island in its heyday one hundred years ago. If you love documentaries, I strongly suggest you pick this one up as soon as possible.
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Documentary -- Glad to have it....
musipilot10 June 2006
It's pieces like this that give you hope for the American film industry. A moving documentary, well done, and truly a trip back in time...but the point is that it's important it was made. We need to explore how we got to where we are as a society, and viewing this gives us so much insight into our parent's and grandparent's generation. It may explain why we are the way we are today. Coney Island today is a war zone. How did we get there? This documentary is one of many that explores this issue under the surface, and does it brilliantly. More than just a review of this movie, this is a review of America, and New York. If it doesn't make you sad, then you may have to check your pulse. See it.
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Coney Island was More Than Coney Island
jmd-1127 January 2001
Most of us still alive that saw Coney Island, remember a tacky, dingy, outdated park that had no comparison to the Disneyesque versions of amusement parks today. Ric Burns recaptures the excitement and beauty of this faded national treasure. With historic footage to validate the testimony of those who were there and moderate the text, this documentary conveys the drama and relevance to the past generation who visited this place of wonder. Anyone who enjoys history and wants to recapture a moment in time will want to see this movie.
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What does it look like now ?
sirarthurstreebgreebling20 September 2000
This is a great little documentary about the life and death (several times) of the worlds most famous amusement park "Coney Island". With footage from the 1890's of bathers on the beach when it was just becoming popular to the era of Weegee (whose photograph of the same beach with hundreds of thousands upon it is legendary)and the various fires and developments that were show pieced on this remarkable island. For one I didn't know that incubators for children were developed at coney island in one of the "future" parts. The film also contains one of the most brutal pieces of film I have seen with the public execution (via electricity) of an Elephant, yes an Elephant.

This is well worth digging out and will serve as an accurate representation of a time that now seems so long ago.
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