Peter Cramer, Coney Island



Peter Cramer's Coney Island is a 13 minute short art film from 1987. It's a non-narrative film that utilizes shots from the Coney Island boardwalk in Brooklyn, New York. The piece starts off filming the beach with slow pans and slightly unstable zooms, eventually narrowing into the boardwalk. The first impression you feel is almost that of old family vacation footage. In addition, the point of view feels almost childish as the frame turns in all directions and switches indiscriminately from sight to sight, as something new catches their [the camera's] eye. The only noise is ambient sound from the beach and boardwalk; the sounds of waves crashing, seagulls cawing, and children on the carousal.

Moving into the boardwalk, the ambient noise starts to fade out replaced by a static-like white noise with short bursts of children laughing and shouting (it feels) from a distance. The change in sound is subtly jarring; the ambient noise of the boardwalk is something familiar to our ears, so it is noticeable when it starts to become replaced. The lack of true ambient noise also helps to accentuate the sounds of children when they start to fade in. As our ears are jarred, our eyes are simultaneously taking in another change in information as we see some of the most dynamic shots of the piece. Our point of view switches from underneath a roller coaster track, watching the ride fly over and above us, then switches to the front seat of the roller coaster cart itself as it zips around the track. The camera follows along, around, and upside down of the track invoking the feeling that of a dryer spin cycle. As the picture is spun about, we also start to lose some of the audio, as the sounds of children fade out and we are again left with white noise as our only audio.

When the picture steadies, we've stepped off the roller coaster and are back on the beach underneath the boardwalk. However, the colors have changed; they've become more vibrant but in their context they're almost abrasive versus familiar. The colors set the tone for the next part of our visual trip as we quite literally go through the funhouse. (Or in Coney Island's case the "Spookarama".) The sound is almost as unnerving as under the white noise there is something that you can't quite place that isn't quite coming through. Moving through the creatures and ghouls on the walls of the "Spookarama" and into the midway, the music starts to come through. Something old, sounding as if it's coming out of a poorly tuned radio, but still slightly ominous as the soundtrack is punctuated by the sharp sounds of metal smashing against metal. Moving off the midway onto the beach and boardwalk, the volume increases until it fills your ears. As the volume increases, the music becomes more carnival-like in nature. The beach is used again as a buffer zone, preparing us for the next trip into the hustle and bustle of the midway. When we cut back to the midway, night has fallen.

The neon lights create a strong visual pull, that is emphasized by the motion of the rides, and then by people playing games. I feel that this sequence of shots might be the strongest as a midway lit up by neon just after dusk with that repetitive carnival music is a sensory experience most people should be able to relate with. The entire experience of Cramer's Coney Island is slightly surreal and slightly unsettling; which I feel is an accurate representation of the landmark he's trying to capture. A sight know for freak shows and thrill rides can only be portrayed in the same off-kilter light with a soundtrack that makes you squirm because you can't quite get comfortable with the way the sounds hit your eardrums.

Jillian Vidal--, 2010.



Peter Cramer