October 29, 1917 [Coney Island]

I never tire of Coney Island. There's something almost sad about it, always on the verge of collapse—not physically: It is still a wonder of light and machine-ratcheting pleasures—but even the times I've been there, it seems a half-memory—even more so watching it on the screen, as Fatty Arbuckle, Al St. John, Buster Keaton—and Alice Mann, a genuine sweetie-pie, ready for a dip—undergo various trials during a typically chaotic Comique Film Co. holiday. And while Fatty eventually dons his usual female garb (this time a bathing-suit, the camera demurely rising—at his insistence—as he changes), it's Keaton I again noticed more, his rubbery frame and resigned demeanor at odds with each other—yet forming a comical whole, as though the last thing he expects is to be in a knock-around comedy.

And again, as backdrop and prop, Coney Island does its best to indulge their most outlandish, cork-popping stunts, spurred by the promise of romance, from the Steeplechase to the Witching Waves, in midair or the briny deep. What a relief this Island still stands, in another world—crafted by a child, it seems—that hasn't a clue it's perched at the edge of a dangerous expanse, whose far shores are burning. For twenty minutes or so, there was nothing but Coney Island, a nostalgia-device—like the cinema itself—inventing a past, an imaginary home we want to believe we can find again—true, veneered in the ridiculous shades of Fairy Floss, but no less enticing for all its little lies.


  1. The image of Arbuckle in the ride with the two actresses is actually from a scene of 1916's A Reckless Romeo shot at Palisades Amusement Park in Fort Lee NJ - the ride they are on is at Palisades Amusement Park - see the film and the first part has an aerial shot of the park and the saltwater pool. Though released in 1917 we believe it was shot in 1916. Other portions of the film were shot on Main Street and Linwood Avenue outside the Triangle Studio in Fort Lee, NJ.

  2. @Tom: Who am I to argue with the Fort Lee Film Commission? ;-) Thanks for the correction--and good luck in your efforts from a fellow New Jersey native (transplanted to the Midwest). Hope you weathered the storms.


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