AMUSEMENT PARK, THE
(director:George A. Romero; screenwriter: Walton Cook; cinematographer: S. William Hinzman; editor: George A. Romero; cast: Lincoln Maazel, Harry Albacker, Pete Chovan, Phyllis Casterwiler; Runtime: 54; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Richard P. Rubinstein/Suzanne Desrocher-Romero: Shudder; 1973)
“A must see curiosity film meant to get in your grill.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
In this strange and disturbing experimental cult film of 1973, a must see curiosity film meant to get in your grill, even if no masterpiece it’s still a great minor film from still a largely ignored great director. It was shot on 16mm footage with a hand-held camera, giving us the impression this is a cinema vérité documentary on “realism.” It turns into a delightful one-of-a-kind macabre film we shouldn’t ignore just because it’s over-the-top and gives us what we don’t expect to see in a film about being concerned about the well-being of seniors. Yet it speaks more to us as Americans than we may care to admit (as it uses an amusement park to be a microcosm for a hostile American society). If you don’t believe how violent America is, check out the national broadcasts every day and see how many violent news incidents occur on a daily basis.
The horror film maven, the late George A. Romero (“Martin”/”Dawn of the Dead”), who passed away four years ago at age 77, was commissioned by the Lutheran Society to make an educational film to highlight the problems of ageing and how poorly the elderly are treated by modern society. Don’t ask why the Christians chose him! But not too surprisingly it turned out to be a really troubling, surreal and strange film–too blunt, nightmarish and disturbing for the shocked Lutherans to release it. So they put it on a shelf and forgot about it. The educational film was lost until found and restored with a 4K restoration some years later in 2018 by the film preservation society IndieCollect.
Lincoln Maazel (a stage actor and singer, and the father of musical conductor Loren), someone in his seventies, introduces the film at its opening from a deserted amusement park in Pittsburgh (Romero’s hometown). The story moves on with a bunch of peculiar episodes, with Maazel in it as an unnamed character trying to have a fun day at the park but finding himself attacked, humiliated and robbed.
All the seniors were played by ordinary non-actor citizens (most were patients in a nursing home and park attendees).
In the final act Maazel summarizes his bad day experience at the park, as if speaking for all seniors.
As far as the fantasy film goes, Maazel is the old gentleman wearing a white suit who wanders around the Pittsburgh amusement park looking for fun but discovers only the young are enjoying themselves, as he’s either ignored, bullied, patronized, mocked or attacked. We catch a bumper car ride mishap caused by a youngster whereby the old-timer is falsely blamed for the incident. To make sure we get it that the senior citizen crowd is being ridiculed or abused, there’s a sideshow display for “freaks, ” and when the curtain is drawn we see only old people And if that’s not enough for you to feel ashamed at the way the elderly are being treated, a bunch of young thugs terrorize a group of seniors who are just strolling in the park.
The warning Romero sends out is “Remember, as you watch the film: One day, you will be old.”
REVIEWED ON 7/8/2021 GRADE: A