‘Zipper’ chronicles Coney Island’s storied history

Photo: film still courtesy of Amy Nicholson

Documentary Airs on WNET-Thirteen on April 28

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Coney Island has changed quite a bit over the past few years, especially since the building of Luna Park and the Scream Zone. However, there are those who miss the old, anarchic, slightly seedy but always in-your-face Coney Island. 

Filmmaker Amy Nicholson is in the latter category, as evidenced in her documentary “Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride,” which, just two weeks after Coney Island opened for the 2014 season, will premiere on WNET-Thirteen. The film, which first premiered this past summer at IFC, will air Monday, April 28 at 10 p.m.  

The title of the movie is somewhat misleading. “Zipper” is the name of a scary-looking carnival ride in which enclosed cars swing back and forth like the cars on the Wonder Wheel, while the entire contraption spins and rotates at high speeds. Until 2007, Coney Island had a Zipper ride owned by independent operator Eddie Miranda, who’s now living in Florida.

“I grew up working summers in Ocean City, Maryland, which has many of the same qualities as Coney Island,” says Nicholson, who grew up in Baltimore and now works in advertising in Manhattan. “They have a Zipper ride there. When I found out that Coney Island had one that was going to go.” The Zipper had its last ride after Miranda’s landlord sold the land under the ride to the city.

“I thought I should make an homage to that sort of analog entertainment, to that type of ride. I was a teenager in the 1970s, and going on these rides was the thing to do,” says Nicholson.

While at first she just wanted to make a film about the ride, she says, she got “sucked into the politics” of Coney Island redevelopment.

While this subject is very complicated, it is her contention that “it was the policy of the Bloomberg administration from very early to stress economic development, not amusements.” There were several plans and several compromises that shrunk the acreage allocated to the amusement district.

The area outside the amusement district, she says, is zoned for “a little bit of everything,” including restaurants, condos, hotels, businesses and more.

Many of the principal players are interviewed and shown in the film, including city officials, Joe Sitt (a developer who amassed much of the land in Coney Island and had a controversial plan of his own before he sold the land to the city); Dick Zigun of the zany Coney Island USA organization, which sponsors the annual Mermaid Parade; and City Councilman Domenick Recchia. It also shows Miranda presiding over the Zipper’s last ride.

“Zipper” was filmed between 2007 and 2009, which is why it does not show Luna Park or include material on the 2010 fight between several boardwalk food stands and the city, which didn’t want to renew their leases.

Nicholson, speaking to the Eagle this past July, made it clear that she does not oppose change as such. “Luna Park has some nice rides,” she said. But she questions whether the zoning changes had to be so wide-sweeping.

Asked about Recchia’s complaint that there were no sit-down restaurants in the amusement area (it turns out that this is prohibited by zoning unless the restaurants are connected with entertainment), she said that could have been accomplished with a small “tweaking” of the zoning laws.

Nicholson has made two other films, one a short on the New York School of Dog Grooming and the other, believe it or not, on a beauty contest associated with a muskrat-skinning competition (called “Muskrat Lovely).

The film airs Monday, April 28 10 p.m. (Cablevision 13/713, Time Warner 13/713, Comcast (NJ) 240 (CT) 237, RCN 613, Patriot Media 165, and Verizon Fios 513.)

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April 23, 2014 - 8:30am



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