Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride: Film Review

Nostalgia matches anti-fat-cat zeal in this entertaining NY-centric doc.

Documentary director Amy Nicholson takes a final spin on one of Coney Island's last old-school attractions.

One hates to find fault with a doc as enjoyably scrappy as Amy Nicholson's Zipper: Coney Island's Last Wild Ride. But it must be noted that the doc's title sells the film short. Prospective viewers could easily reject the idea of a feature-length ode to a low-tech thrill ride, without intuiting the film's real, much meatier subject: The epic David/Goliath fight that has ravaged Coney Island over the last six years. The film should please New York audiences, but will resonate with anybody who has watched some quirky favorite place be demolished by developers who don't appreciate its charm.

Infuriatingly, many of the villains here claim not only to get the charms of Coney Island but to be preserving them. Real estate mogul Joe Sitt says he named his company Thor Equities because, like the super-hero, it's a protector of the powerless. But just listen to him as he describes the generic tenants he hopes to move in after bulldozing the Mom and Pop amusements that have kept the boardwalk buzzing for decades: Dave and Busters, the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. -- the same bland chains Coney residents could visit by hopping on the N or Q trains and heading to the new, character-free Times Square.

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Nicholson devotes plenty of time to the wrangling between Sitt and city planners who have their own revitalization ideas, most of which rely heavily on the kind of big, corporate intervention sure to price locals out of their own backyard. Local councilman Domenic Recchia seems to be fighting for those little guys, until we hear him complain that there's no decent place -- an Applebee's, say -- for him to take his family to eat on the boardwalk.

Nicholson demolishes planners' arguments deftly, playing their audio over Super 16 footage of New Yorkers having a ball eating hot dogs and playing Shoot the Freak. She also notes that, notwithstanding official handwringing over the area's decline, attendance had actually been increasing dramatically from 2000 to 2006, before Sitt started buying lots and evicting small businesses.

Oh yes, those small businesses: Nicholson does give plenty of attention to the Zipper itself -- observing its power to generate shrieks of delight, hanging out with owner Eddie Miranda and a crew whose accents could be used to lubricate heavy machinery. They're a delightful gang, however little weight they carry in the plans of Joe Sitt, Michael Bloomberg, and the others who'll soon be maximizing rent and tax revenue on this prime waterfront property.

Production Company: Myrtle & Olive Productions

Director-Producer: Amy Nicholson

Director of photography: Jerry Risius

Music: Mick Rossi, Joel Shelton

Editors: Jonah Moran, John Young

No rating, 76 minutes