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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Brooklyn Reel Estate: C.I., The Big Coney

This monthly blog column (blogumn?) will include musings on the neighborhoods covered in the Brooklyn Close-Up film series, featuring films shot in the Borough of Kings. First up: The Warriors and their home turf, the big Coney.

A simpler time!
Although I grew up in a suburb of Worcester, MA—a former beacon of the American industrial revolution best known as the birthplace of poet Elizabeth Bishop, rocketman Robert Goddard, and 60s radical Abbie Hoffman, far from the cultural fondue pot of New York City—I always had a bit of Brooklyn rumbling through my veins. Before moving to Massachusetts to marry my grandfather, my grandmother grew up in Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge. I would sit beside her on the arm of her chair and she’d tell stories of her Brooklyn life—church dances, subway trips with her girlfriend to sneak underage cocktails in Manhattan bars, and, most enticingly, summers spent on the teeming beaches of Coney Island, riding roller coasters and ferris wheels with magical names like Cyclone and Wonder Wheel. 

Coney Island in the 1930s - I imagine my grandma is down there somewhere, cheek-to-cheek with other beachgoers.
Long before it was swarming with bathing beauties and beached beefcakes, Conyne Eylandt (old Dutch for Rabbit Island) was home to an estimated bazillion bunnies when discovered by Henry Hudson. Because of its distance from the hustle bustle of Manhattan, Coney Island was deemed the perfect resort spot for harried city folk. As developments sprung up, the rabbits were wiped out. By 1964, when Sol Yurick wrote his novel The Warriors, teenage gangs and criminals had driven many people out, too.

Victimized by fire, urban blight, graffiti, and street gangs, Coney Island looked kinda like this in the 70s. Notice the inset of the applauding bunny. He's clearly happy about what a mess the humans made of things.
Coney Island’s glory days in the first half of the 20th century boasted lavish amusement centers like Luna Park (1903-1944; a new complex has opened under the same name recently), Dreamland (1904-1911), and Steeplechase Park (1897-1964), the latter of which existed where MCU Park now stands and claims the parachute jump as its only remnant. 

By the time The Warriors takes place, most of this exists only in archival photographs and aging memories. Like much of New York, the island of rabbits was now hopping with street toughs. It’s this milieu that Yurick portrays in his book and that Walter Hill captured somewhat more fantastically in his film. Yurick’s gang The Dominators are a group of black/Hispanic teenagers, but Hill was compelled by Paramount to make his Warriors partly white, too (and also a bit more heroic). However, whatever the differences between the film and the book, both represent a period in the resort's history where gangs ruled in the shadow of the Wonder Wheel.

The Warriors Director's Cut features rotoscoping aplenty
Most of The Warriors takes place in The Bronx and in the colorfully tagged New York City subway with Coney Island bookends. But in its identification with these red leather vest-wearing toughs and their quest to escape into the arms of their home under the Coney boardwalk, the film is quintessentially Brooklyn in its evocation of borough pride. 

Whether it’s the Furies or the Turnbull ACs or the club-wielding cops, no one can take down the Warriors. They are the coolest, toughest, most confident gang in the city and this film subtly celebrates the people of Brooklyn and their superiority to those in the other boroughs. Although I didn’t grow up here, am not in a gang, and certainly wouldn’t stand a polar bear’s chance in hell against The Furies, watching The Warriors kick ass kind of makes me feel a bit of that pride, too. And what’s film for if not to enable a little fantasy? 

The villainous Luther is about to get served, Coney style

BAM Pride! We have a cameo in The Warriors in the form of a listing on the subway map during the opening credits! Sadly, we were cut out of the video game intro (jump to the end to see that video).

Below are some pictures I took of Coney Island on a beautiful October weekend:

Now $8 a pop, I think this ride was a 25 cents when my Gramma was a wee lass.

Wonder Wheel!

Luna Park Redux

Scary Halloween photo #1
Scary Halloween photo #2

Scary (but fabulous) Halloween photo #3. I kind of wanted to ask this guy where he shops.

Wedding photos under the pier

And just for fun, here is the intro in the video game of The Warriors, which is strikingly similar (as in nearly exact) to the intro in the film. Be forewarned, there is some offensive language in the video:

BAMcinématek celebrates BAM's 150th anniversary by screening a film shot in Brooklyn every month through December 2012. For more details, visit

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