One Day YOU will be old – The Amusement Park review #georgeromero

This recently restored film is an interesting look at George Romero and a controversial subject. The Amusement Park (1973) was a discarded film, originally created by Romero as a commission work for the Lutheran Service Society in Pittsburg, but not widely used and thought lost. The original 16mm reels were sitting in Romero’s basement aka the archives, and were discovered by Suzanne Romero and the Romero Foundation in their faded, dilatated state. The film was restored to a pristine, 4K condition and you can now see it on Shudder. It has all the hallmarks of a Romero movie, but I hesitate in calling it that, because it really doesn’t have any plot or character development, and it reminds me of all those old time safety films they’d show you at the DMV. Lincoln Maazel is the only significant character in this film and the other roles are played by local volunteers, who become subjects of Romero’s edgy, educational lesson about aging and old age.

Maazel opens the film with some narration and speaks to us about the personal connection he has to the film’s theme ie old age. Much like a traditional educational film or public service message, the film has a clear introduction, gives some examples and closes with a reflection, only Romero uses an unusual setting and a different way of storytelling to get the point across. His method of “educating” us is to use analogy and a series of skits set in Pittsburg’s West View amusement park, which stands in as a setting for a bustling metropolis and other urban locations. Get ready for metaphors unusual crap. Romero sets up Maazel to help and guide us through The Amusement Park, and not ironically, he fits the demographic Romero is focusing on, so he’s the perfect main character.

“We intend for you to feel the problem—to experience it,” Maazel tells us, “And we ask for your sympathy as you watch. And when the film ends, we hope you will have the concerned interest to take action.”

The supporting players of this film are not actors, they are volunteers, many of whom are actively involved in services to the elderly. The older people in the film are also volunteers, who are either concerned enough to give us of their time or who are, in real life, living in institutions, lower income housing, or city slums.

The time spent at West View Park … for some of the elderly players, was the only enjoyable time they had in recent years. Remember, as you watch the film, one day YOU will be old.”

The Amusement Park is still relevant today. Maybe that’s because issues of aging and old age are still all around us, things like loneliness, failing health, inadequate transportation, inadequate medical care, housing issues, and lack of support from others, especially younger people. You can find all of these examples in Maazel’s trip through The Amusement Park, where he encounters others dealing with these problems or encountering them himself. It’s not a full-on allegory, like Dawn of the Dead, instead the skits happen in this amusement park and the characters interact like they’re in another place, in another time. For example, Maazel watches some bumper cars race around and the film plays with this concept as a metaphor for traffic and there’s a “car accident”, where one of the two drivers is discriminated against because she’s much older than the other driver, who caused the accident in the first place. It’s strange seeing a police officer dealing with a bumper cars “accident” and dealing with these arguing people but it does work in getting the message across, plus I’m sure Romero saved money telling his story this way, where he otherwise couldn’t give this example on a normal street.

The bumper cars skit is one simple example but others are more emotional and way stranger than that. The meaning is clear in some, as examples of lack of support for one, but still others make you wonder and think about what the whole thing means, which is maybe the point. One of the more effective examples is when an older woman struggles with getting support and health care attention for her ailing husband. The example is framed at the beginning with a news interview with the lady’s cheapass landlord, who is used as a device to elicit sympathy for the older tenants, who are all living in horrible conditions. We don’t know why the news reporter is interviewing this cheapass, scoundrel but it works to build tension and uneasiness as we watch the old woman deal with her problem. She eventually breaks down and yells at the doctor over the phone, in one of the more well-delivered dialogue sequences.

Overall, this is a good film. It accomplishes exactly what Romero wanted to do but maybe not in the way people were expecting, so maybe that’s why it’s not remembered in the same vein as Dawn of the Dead or even The Crazies. The setting sorta hides the low budget nature of the film, but it doesn’t need to be any more elaborate than it is, so it works. Lincoln Maazel still does some good work despite this low budget and you can see his effort, so he’s clearly invested in what the film’s trying to do. The “message” is repetitive and blunt, but still interesting and horrifying, and I think it works even better than I expected due to the amateur cast and downtrodden individuals, clearly not polished up by Hollywood. They themselves become subjects as the movie goes along, victims in some cases, as they hopelessly barter with precious heirlooms for tickets for entry into the park, for one example. This, and other examples, are the main ways The Amusement Park delivers a surreal, eerie experience.

It’s ironic how the movie itself was treated, discarded and forgotten like many of the older generation featured in the film.