Most of the movie’s best moments come from accusatory and sharply witty editing; the crosscutting between the Zipper being dismantled and the city council voting to rezone the neighborhood is as effective as the baptism scene in The Godfather. But it’s when Nicholson calls bullshit on politicians that the film is most powerful: when local councilmember (and Sitt friend) Dominc Recchia says amusements can’t make money anymore because of high insurance costs, she cuts to the owner of the Zipper who says he was doing all right; when Christine Quinn says the City Council can make Coney Island a place people want to go to again, Nicholson cuts to shots of the beach as crowded with people as sidewalk ice cream is with ants; when Recchia says there’s nowhere in Coney Island for him to take his kids out for dinner, Nicholson cuts to a family eating outside a restaurant on the Boardwalk—a brown family, which gets at the heart of the Coney problem: not that it’s a place no one wanted to go to, but, like Downtown Brooklyn, it was a place in New York where rich white people still felt uncomfortable.
From 2007-2008, I covered the Coney Island beat as a graduate student, particularly the redevelopment. (I kept looking for myself in Zipper because I was at a lot of those public meetings!) Born and raised in Brooklyn, I had spent some summer afternoons at Astroland, but it wasn’t until I started walking the streets that I really got a sense of what Coney Island was, what it meant. I got a sense of its unique charm: the homespun entrepreneurialism, the peaceful coexistence of the awesome and the seedy, how hard it worked to be fun and not just present an image of what fun might look like. I got a sense of its soul, manifesting itself on every face, shiny surface and grain of sand. It wasn’t a perfect place; it could have used more investment, more glitz. But there’s a way to invest in communities, to develop and encourage business, that doesn’t require a wholesale dismantling of what already exists. In Brooklyn during the Bloomberg years, though, from Atlantic Yards and Downtown Brooklyn to Coney Island, you’d never know it.
Opens August 9 at IFC Center