The Amusement Park [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Acorn Media
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (15th November 2022).
The Film

Martin's Lincoln Maazel plays himself in a way, a seventy-year-old actor who has entered The Amusement Park in hopes of reaping the benefits of age and experience along with his fellow elderly only to find himself confronted with a series of "attractions" which reveal the real way the world treats its aged population. A carnival ticket seller (Night of the Living Dead's Bill Hinzman, who also photographed) lowballs customers on the sentimental valuables they must pawn in order to afford tickets to a ride, other customers find themselves excluded on the grounds of health or just "fear of the unknown," some are either invisible or symbolic or literal bumper car obstacles to the younger who have no time for them – including director George Romero himself who rear ends an old couple and berate them for not riding the bus where they "belong" – and a customer who has died is disposed of quietly and efficiently. Lincoln's own attempts to intervene lead to him being berated for his own infirmities and his memory and eyesight questioned, he is called a degenerate when he attempts to entertain some children who cannot find their parents, and is the victim of a random attack by a young man (future Romero cinematographer Michael Gornick, who provided additional photography and sound recording as well) who does not like the future the fortune teller envisions for himself and his girlfriend (Bonnie Hinzman) that involves slum lords, uncaring doctors, and indifferent passersby. It seems that the only real use the younger generation has for people of his age are as a "freak show" of people who are surely in the position they are in because they made some bad choices; or worse, as suckers for the various kinds of grift that require flattering the elderly about their venerable status.

Playing like a rather twisted PSA film from Romero who got his start directing industrial and documentary films before moving to features, The Amusement Park is very much a Romero film in that post-Night of the Living Dead highly-experimental period of films like the hippie romance turned sour There's Always Vanilla, the horror-tinged feminist drama Jack's Wife, the psychological vampire film Martin, and the cynical Dawn of the Dead precursor The Crazies; indeed, the film shares not only much of Romero's latter day Latent Image crew but also Romero's more avant garde editing, layered sound design, and more overt and cynical social commentary. As grim as the film is, it moves into dark areas but never really the fantastic twist one expects; however, that is because The Amusement Park is no experiment with the documentary form, it actually was a work for hire, a "call to action" by the Lutheran Service Society on behalf of the marginalized elderly of society; as such, Maazel is being quite literal when he describes the purpose of the film as for the viewer "to feel the problem, to experience it, and we ask for your sympathy as you watch." The vignettes are all very predictable and the association of those who con and exploit the elderly with carnie hucksters is rather on the nose; however, it perhaps says a lot about the truth of the depictions then as our cynical reactions to a lack of "cleverness" in presenting them now. The Amusement Park may not be a long lost Romero masterpiece, but it as much of any of his studio work reveals that Romero could still be Romero even when working for hire.


Largely unseen until a recent 16mm screening at the Venice Film Festival, the 4K restoration of The Amusement Park was the first project of the George A. Romero Foundation, with the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen Blu-ray transfer – identical in encode, menus, and extras content to the already released American RLJ Entertainment Shudder release – utilizing two badly-faded 16mm prints. The colors have been restored but sharpness varies from shot to shot, perhaps as much due to the original photography as the budget processing and the archival deterioration, and various scratches and bits of dirt and dust that could not be cleaned without obliterating detail remain. While it certainly looks inferior to the best transfers of Romero's other 16mm films Martin and Jack's Wife, it remains watchable and the faults do not distract from one's appreciation of the content.


The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is derived from the optical track of one of the two 16mm prints employed in the picture restoration, and it is more consistently clear and free of flaws in its cleanup and restoration, conveying the collage of sound vividly along with the dialogue recording and ADR (in which the distinctive voices of Romero, Hinzman, and Gornick are very evident elsewhere in the soundtrack voicing other background characters and offscreen voices). Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.


Extras start off with an audio commentary by actor/assistant cameraman Michael Gornick, moderated by Red Shirt Pictures' Michael Felsher in which he discusses coming out of the Air Force film unit and planning to stop by Pittsburgh to see his mother on the way to California to network with film people only to drop by The Latent Image with the hope of meeting Romero and being hired and sent to location to do sound on The Crazies the next day leading to a fifteen year collaboration. He describes the state of The Latent Image in the seventies with Romero having to lay off staff and the production having to use a film processor in Cleveland because they owed money to the Pittsburgh area ones. He describes the jack-of-all-trades training of people working on Romero productions and also reveals that he had worked separately with the Luthern Service Society on a short film of similar theme before the longer version was proposed. More interesting than Gornick's memories of Romero are his recollections of Hinzman who was his mentor. People who think of Hinzman as a "self-promoter" on the basis of his putting his cemetery zombie up front and center in his own zombie film Flesh Eater along with the disastrous "30th Anniversary Editon" of Night of the Living Dead will be intrigued to hear about Hinzman's contributions to Romero's evolving style following the 1968 film, Hinzman's work as a still photographer and cinematographer, and what Gornick learned from him before moving up to cinematographer for Romero.

"Re-Opening the Park" (12:02) is an interview with Romero's widow interview Suzanne Desrocher-Romero who recalls that Romero's enthusiasm waned after his diagnosis with terminal lung cancer when she received a DVD copy and 16mm print of the film that he dismissed as nothing special. She, however, was found herself in good company among people who thought it was the "most Romero of all" and decided it would be the foundation's first project after his passing. In "Bill & Bonnie’s Excellent Adventure" (10:00), actress Bonnie Hinzman recalls coming to work at The Latent Image and meeting Bill Hinzman who returned to the company in 1970 after leaving it to do some investigative photography, her work in various roles in films during the period of the short, and her memories of the shoot.

In "For Your Amusement" (11:05), artist Ryan Carr recalls coming to work as an artist for the foundation after they noticed a piece he did on Day of the Dead's zombie "Bud", seeing The Amusement Park, and the challenges of working on the graphic novel adaptation based on the finished film and a three page "script." Also included is a remote Panel Interview (23:12) with Desrocher-Romero, restoration producer Sandra Schulberg, long-time Romero collaborator Greg Nicotero, and author Daniel Kraus moderated by Shudder's Samuel Zimmerman, a gallery for the film's official brochure, one for the script, and one for behind-the-scenes photos.


The Amusement Park may not be a long lost Romero masterpiece, but it as much of any of his studio work reveals that Romero could still be Romero even when working for hire.


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