The Amusement Park
the amusement park | george a. romero | wally cook | lincoln maazel | harry albacker | phyllis casterwiler | allegory | surreal | drama | thriller | united states | pete chovan | marion cook | sally erwin | michael gornick | jack gottlob | halem joseph | bob koppler
Film: The Amusement Park
Director: George A. Romero
Writer: Wally Cook
Starring: Lincoln Maazel, Harry Albacker and Phyllis Casterwiler
Now this is an interesting movie here. Technically this was made back in 1973 by the late and great George A. Romero. This was a director for hirer with what I believe the Lutheran society around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. What they got was a bit shocking for what they were expecting, which is odd when you’re hiring the director from The Night of the Living Dead, which by this time already had a cult following. Regardless, this film was found and restored. I had the pleasure of seeing this at the Gateway Film Center. The synopsis here is an elderly gentleman goes for what he assumes will be an ordinary day at the amusement park, only to find himself in the middle of a hellish nightmare instead.
We start this movie off with a disclaimer by our star, Lincoln Maazel. He doesn’t have a character name, but he warns us of what we will be seeing here. This is from a different time, which I learned from the Q and A after the movie ended with the likes of Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, his widow, as well as Greg Nicotero. This movie was made before we had programs like Meals on Wheels and Lincoln is warning us about the treatment of the elderly. Part of the reason for this, we will all end up that way as well.
From there we shift to a white room. Lincoln enters the door and seated is another version of him. The one that is sitting down looks rough and doesn’t want to talk while the other version seems cheery. He invites the sitting one to join him, but he is rebuffed. The clean version goes out a door to the amusement park beyond. From here it is an interesting, nightmarish allegory of the things that Lincoln warned us about in the beginning. It is showing the monetary limitations of the elderly. We get to see the lengths they can be willing to go and what they have to give up. We also get to see how those younger treat them and even the smallest, harmless thing can be taken wrong.
I’m going to leave my recap there as this movie only runs 52 minutes long. I could go into spoilers, but I really think that this is a movie that needs to be experienced. Even if I went into more detail, it is more about seeing it play out, the performances and the reactions of the characters that are more impactful than the scenarios themselves.
That is something I want to delve a bit deeper into as well. An amusement park is supposed to be something that is fun. I know growing up, since my birthday is in the summer; my family would go to Cedar Point. I’ve been to Seaworld as a child as well and I’ve been to a few other amusement parks. I enjoy riding the rides. The point I’m getting at is that it is a place of enjoyment. This one is more of an allegory for life. We see at first a bunch of elderly people that are pawning their personal items for tickets. The tickets are a representation of money that we see play out with different things within the park. This is going to the fact that when you’re no longer able to work, you might not be able to afford the basic amenities to survive. I am glad that some things have happened without this movie’s release, but this is something I credit Romero for recognizing at such a young age and using this opportunity to point it out. Seeing the ordeal that Lincoln goes through was heartbreaking.
I wanted to give a bit more credit here to Romero. Despite this being a director for hire project and one that he didn’t write, I do have to agree with members of the Q and A that I watched after the movie. You can really feel Romero getting much more confident in what he’s doing. This movie is surreal, but I could see the point he was trying to get across. It really shows how great of a filmmaker he is. Something I didn’t realize about him was that he didn’t do a lot of camera movements. This taking a documentary feel with that type of style makes it feel that much real, despite what we are seeing being fictional.
As for the acting, what is crazy is that Lincoln Maazel is really the only true actor here. He did a really good job of showing someone who in the beginning is excited, but constantly beat down by everything. It is sad to think that everything he is going through is a different representation of life and things that many people experience. The rest of the cast is volunteers. Since they are all in limited roles, I think it works. It comes off very natural and aids in that almost documentary feel. I did also find it fun to see that Romero also has a cameo here. His character is such a jerk, but it put a smile on my face.
Since I’ve already touched on the cinematography, I’ll go over to the effects. This movie doesn’t really have many, but it also isn’t that type of movie. What I find impressive though is the set design. We are in a real amusement park from what I learned. The bumper cars are treated like actually driving and the lead-up is with a man being denied his license. There is a bleak outlook at the end of a rollercoaster. We also get this depressing take when Lincoln wants to seek solace from some clergy people, but they close their booth. The worst though is the elderly home where people are working out and Lincoln is forced to go in. All of these helped my anxiety go up when I realize what they are representing. I thought this was well done.
I think that is the extent of what I wanted to go into here for this movie. There isn’t a lot to it with its short runtime. To be honest though, I think that is perfect for what the movie is trying to convey. There is a nightmare quality to it with the amusement park having different allegorical looks at things we were warned about in the opening monologue. I think this really showcases how good of a filmmaker Romero was. The acting works for what they needed and the soundtrack fit as well. This is really good for what they’re doing, I will say that. For me, this is a good movie. I am giving it a bump for Romero, I will admit that. If you’re a fan of this legend, give this a viewing.
My Rating: 8 out of 10