July 30, 2012, 8pm
Sternberg Park (map)
Brooklyn documentarian JL Aronson’s Last Summer at Coney Island portrays a legendary amusement park on the precipice of great transformation; a time and place where every summer feels like the last.
Coney Island is known throughout the world as the birthplace of the hot dog, the roller coaster and—broadly speaking—popular culture. But Coney Island is not what it used to be and the area has lingered for years as a specter of its former magnificence.
Now, after years of false starts, change is coming to Coney Island. Come Hell or high water, the city of New York is determined to revitalize the once glorious, world capitol of amusements. Meanwhile, a private developer with dubious motives has been purchasing every square foot of land he can get his hands on. The neighborhood’s residents, along with the amusement community and the millions who cherish Coney Island’s legacy are left wondering what will happen next. Seaside salvation or Brooklyn boondoggle? History will decide but this film is the first draft. Last Summer at Coney Island juxtaposes images of the past and present and features many of the key players in this historic transformation.
The film’s two principle characters are Charles Denson and Carol Albert. Charlie was 12 years old when he witnessed the shuttering and destruction of Steeplechase, “the crystal palace of amusement parks.” He grew up in the Island’s first housing project and has since gone on to become a celebrated historian of the area. Now, seeing a redevelopment plan coming to Coney that looks all too similar to the one that destroyed Steeplechase (and the neighborhood at large), Charlie must join the fight to preserve what’s left of the past and the potential for a brighter future. Carol Albert had also been a writer but took over Astroland (Coney Island’s last major theme park) from her husband when an illness forced him into retirement. Having been pressured to sell her park to the developers, Carol wants to do something to make things right. She winds up becoming Charlie’s patron, founding a history center underneath the Cyclone Roller Coaster. In many ways, the two switch roles over the course of the film as Charlie becomes the operator of a Coney Island attraction and Carol takes on the role of a preservationist and historian.