This is the strangest film from George A. Romero that I’ve seen. Perhaps O.J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose has more absurdist kitsch, but I’ll never know.
Originally from 1973, thought lost, then rediscovered in 2017, The Amusement Park was some work for hire from Romero in between making Season of the Witch and The Crazies. Commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania, the aim of the film was to show the struggles of the aged, and society’s disregard for their plight, through the allegory of the world’s worst amusement park.
The host for the viewer’s journey is an older gentleman played by Lincoln Maazel. In an intro, he informs the viewer of the film’s purpose, and then it’s off to the amusement park we go (shooting took place at West View Park just north of Pittsburgh, since demolished). There, a white-suited Maazel is joined by a passel of fogies as they are discriminated against by park employees and guests, and humiliated over and over in the park and its environs. It’s not just that they were being told to hurry it along in the concession line or anything so mundane. Rather, Romero and company showcase common issues senior citizens face from outside the park, such as renewing a driver’s license, or getting ripped off at a pawn shop, or being unable to find adequate medical care.
At first, it’s awkward and weird, but once a viewer realizes the intent it becomes just an example of a public service announcement taken to an extreme. At 52-minutes long, at least it doesn’t tax a viewer’s attention span too much…as long as they are looking at this as an historical piece of film.
This is not a film that was ever meant to be watched for entertainment. That didn’t stop Romero from going beyond his mandate and building a world for screenwriter Wally Cook’s characters to inhabit. For the elder visitors to the amusement park everything is a loud, rushed, and hopeless jumble of sights and sounds. What had once been a world they understood and knew how to navigate, has since, because of their age, become hostile and threatening. Indeed, the final act features the cruelest indignities suffered by Maazel, as he is beaten by bikers, ignored by doctors, has his pocket picked, and is treated as a leprous pustule by anyone under the age of fifty.
Heavy-handed? Sure. Yet the callous treatment of the old as depicted in this film is still with us today, almost fifty years after this film was tossed into a closet somewhere and forgotten. In that, it’s poignant.
The Amusement Park is a film artifact. It showcases one of film’s most impactful auteurs at his most bizarre and his most interesting. How funny it is that Romero would be so subversively creative in a film that was not made for mass consumption.
Since this is a lecture more than it is a story, watchability is hurt quite a bit. Fans of Romero will rejoice in seeing what amounts to a new film. Fans of arthouse cinema will also feel right at home in its disjointed carnival atmosphere and, it has to be said, film school qualities. Shitty movie fans will love the origin of the film and how gloriously low rent is the entire package. Film historians will be pleased that a once-lost film has been found and preserved. As for regular moviegoers? Who cares? The Amusement Park makes it into the top half of the Index, displacing Next at #129.