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Saturday, 24 July 2021

Streaming Horror: The Amusement Park (1973)


George A Romero's "lost" movie, 1973's The Amusement Park is a bit of an odd fish.

It was the only work-for-hire movie the father of modern zombie cinema made, commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania "as an educational film about elder abuse", but shelved soon after completion.

A print was discovered of this believed-to-be-lost film in 2017, restored, and is available to view on Shudder.

Directed and edited by George A Romero, from a script by Wally Cook, The Amusement Park primarily features volunteer actors, or people who were actually involved in elderly care at the time.

In an interview earlier this year, Romero's wife Suzanne Desrocher-Romero is quoted as saying:
"They [did] use it initially, but I suspect that they thought it was a little edgier than they would have liked."
Clocking in at just under an hour, the main story is bookended by stage actor Lincoln Maazel (who portrays the main character in the film) addressing the audience on how poorly the elderly generation are treated and how we should all change our attitudes to be more accommodating.

The story commences with a jovial Maazel entering an anonymous white room with a single door out.

There's another old man in there, looking the worse for wear, and groaning.

Maazel tries to engage him in conversation, but the battered man simply tells him there's nothing out there and not to go through the door.

Opening the door, Maazel - who also plays the key role of Tateh Cuda in Romero's 1978 vampire film Martin - sees a busy fun fair and steps through.

What follows is a metaphorical bombardment of this old man, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, as he stumbles - increasingly deliriously - through a cavalcade of on-the-nose - but often still rather clever - allegories about old age. 

For instance, pensioners are seen queueing up to hawk their valuables in exchange for tickets to the fun fair rides; there's an eye test before you're allowed to drive one of the dodgems (bumper cars) and if you hit someone police and insurance company reps show up; when Maazel tries to be kind to some children he gets heckled as a "degenerate"; a young couple visit a fortune teller and see a terrifying vision of their future in a rundown flat, penniless, and unable to get the medicine they require etc

When Maazel tries to help fellow elderly punters at the fair, the younger - more numerous - visitors don't pay him any attention.

At one point he is hustled into an attraction ominously called Boot Hill, which turns out to be a grim physiotherapy centre.

A "freak show" just features old people, and when Maazel goes to leave, the crowd proclaim that "one is escaping" and chase after him.

There's a moment when Maazel is set upon by a trio of bikers.

Another scene has him being pickpocketed by a sleazy con-artist.

Even when it seems like he might have found some solace reading The Three Little Pigs to a picnicking girl her mother soon packs up and takes the girl away, leaving Maazel almost in tears.

Finally, the ground down and broken Maazel stumbles back into the white room, now the battered version of himself as his earlier self enters the room again, fresh and full of optimism.

Stylistically, I feel The Amusement Park owes a lot to 1962's Carnival of Souls, with elements of Stanley Kubrick's 1971 A Clockwork Orange,.

You can also see echoes of The Amusement Park in LQ Jones's 1975 adaptation of Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog.

It's obvious from the get-go why the film's commissioners decided not to go with this peculiar oddity as their Public Service Announcement of choice.

It falls into the same broad category as the notoriously disquieting British public information films of the same era, but is considerably longer - and more surreal - than those tended to be. 

While The Amusement Park does get across its point about the systemic mistreatment and general abandonment of the elderly, it does it in a way that is more likely to turn off a general audience rather than inspire them to take positive action. 

Not because of its more shocking and dark content, but because of its art house approach of disjointed sounds and imagery.

As an amateur cinéaste, I found The Amusement Park an interesting watch (primarily because of who directed it), but I can't say it educated or inspired me about elderly care in any manner.

Additional research c/o Wikipedia.

2 comments:

  1. What a great find. Like you say, very interesting. Will aim to check out Martin, too

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Interesting" is definitely the right term for this, with all that word's connotations.

      Delete

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