'The Lost Arcade': Film Review

Kurt Vincent
Will make you feel nostalgic even if you've never played a video game in your life.
8/12/2016

Kurt Vincent's documentary relates the story of one of the last video arcades in New York City.

That the once gloriously funky video arcade formerly known as Chinatown Fair is now the "Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center" says all you need to know about the way in which New York City has lost much of its unique flavor in recent decades. Chronicling the story of the beloved institution and its struggle to survive as gaming culture shifted to home consoles, Vincent Chin's documentary The Lost Arcade is a nostalgic ode that gamers should particularly find fascinating. The pic is receiving is U.S. theatrical premiere at NYC's Metrograph.

Opened in 1944, the Chinatown Fair located at 8 Mott St. was originally a novelty museum before becoming a video arcade, one of dozens that sprung up in the city as the video game craze took hold in the 1970s and '80s. The venue was hugely popular with young people who could play for hours for very little money, even if it did occasionally suffer from tensions caused by competing teen gangs. It still retained vestiges of its former incarnation, including the beloved dancing and Tic-tac-toe playing chickens that delighted onlookers for decades. The environs served as shooting locations for the 1984 Robert De Niro/Meryl Streep film Falling in Love and an Ol' Dirty Bastard music video.

Owned for many years by an indefatigable Pakistani immigrant named Sam Palmer, who often recruited his teenage regulars as employees, the arcade thrived until the establishment of much larger and more ornate video arcades in Times Square, their central location proving an irresistible draw. Another death blow to the establishment was the growing popularity of game consoles on which users could play their favorite games in the privacy of their own homes. The Fair wound up closing in 2011, its metal gate providing an outlet for bereft fans to write farewell messages that turned it into a de facto memorial. It has since reopened under a new owner who was determined to make it more family-friendly.

Relying largely on commentary by Palmer as well as several of his former employees and longtime customers, the film is a bit scattershot in its approach, failing to provide full narrative coherence or even a clear timeline. But for all the sloppiness of its approach, The Lost Arcade is an enjoyable and nostalgic portrait of a bygone era and a local institution that has now lost the pungent atmospheric flavor that made it so unique.

Distributor: 26 Aries
Director: Kurt Vincent
Screenwriter: Irene Chin
Producers: Kurt Vincent, Irene Chin
Executive producers: Kyle Martin, Jason Orans, Joshua Zeman
Directors of photography: Owen Strock, Forest Woodward, Paul Yee, Fank Sun
Editors: Aaron Crozier, Thomas Niles, Kurt Vincent
Composer: Gil Talmi

Not rated, 79 minutes

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