At Action Park

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

I was tickled to see some reminiscences of Action Park show up in my Facebook feed this morning. Do any UR readers remember Action Park? You probably need to have grown up in the New York/New Jersey area during the ’80s to have a recollection of the place. Basically, it was a water park, though it had several non-aquatic components, such as an enormous bungee platform and a luge-style sled course that ran on concrete rather than ice. It was a fun place. But the fun was kind of secondary. It was the sheer outrageousness of Action Park that made it memorable. Built on some old (or still occasionally in use?) ski resort, the park was like a landscaped field of stone and concrete over which pressurized torrents of water had been spewed for the enjoyment of half-drunk parents and their unruly children. It was unpredictable, it was stress-inducing, and they sold beer out of the refreshment kiosks. To a kid of the time, Action Park meant danger.

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But there were urban legends circulating at the time that made the place sound like a cross between Pleasure Island in “Pinocchio” and a particularly nasty hazard from the movie version of Stephen King’s “The Running Man.” It was said that you could be electrocuted on virtually any of the water rides. That drownings in the way-scarier-than-it-sounds Tidal Wave Pool were a regularity. That a man had died from shock just by touching the arctic-cold water in the pool below the infamous Tarzan Swing — and that was after he’d managed to survive the swing part, which everyone knew was apt to kill you all by itself, especially if you let go too late and slammed into the stone wall on the pool’s opposite side. And then there was the dreaded Cannonball Loop, a water slide with a loop built into it that seemed designed by people who’d never heard of either physics or broken collar bones. Who knew how many adolescents had been decapitated upon working up the courage to slide down it? It stood there in silence as you entered Action Park. Ominous. Overgrown. It was always closed, presumably because someone had just died on it. Someone had always just died on it.

People called it “Traction Park.” You’d know your friends had recently enjoyed a visit to Action Park when they showed up to Little League with the skin torn off their limbs and regaled you with stories of crashing on the Alpine Slide, then continuing down the concrete track sans sled, their bodies driven forward by momentum and the force of other riders, who were always coming on close behind, cursing the bruised and bloodied guts of the crashee for daring to spoil their rides. These stories were both horrifying and fascinating, like watching a bullfrog being blown apart by a firecracker. And when you went to Action Park you couldn’t get them out of your brain. The blood and cut-short lives were right there in your consciousness as you neared the front of the queue and looked out at the dreaded jumping-off point. And woe be unto the loser who wimped out at the last second. The crowd wouldn’t hesitate to boo you – a rude, Jersey-sounding boo. Sometimes, the stoned-looking guy pretending to oversee the attraction would spray you with a hose until you either shit yourself or closed your eyes, made peace with your god, and resigned yourself to making what might well be the last decision of your short life. It took balls to succeed at Action Park.

There was a drama to the place that existed outside of its “action.” It was a psychological drama, worked up over time from tall tales, visible scars, and peer pressure. The park seemed designed to encourage it. Take the Alpine Slide: It was accessible only by chairlift, and as you rode that lift you had no choice but to look down at the Slide’s current victims – a few of which hadn’t yet crashed. The slowpokes were perhaps more daunting than the casualties. Mostly girls and fat kids, they’d gotten on their sleds, realized how scary the fucking thing was, and then proceeded to inch . . . down . . . ever . . . so . . . slowly. They were disgusting. From your lordly perch above the fray, you could throw things at these kids, jeer them, even spit on them. Faced with such ignominy, some slowpokes simply abandoned their sleds and ran back down the grassy slopes, content to go back to mom and her station wagon and the smooth ride home. But what if you were, at heart, one of them  . . .  a slowpoke? You couldn’t tell until you got up there, until you made yourself go.

The great thing about Action Park was that it let you control the experience. No planned-and-controlled, Disney-style rides at Action Park. The shit there was participatory, unpredictable. Kids on the Roaring Rapids attraction could paddle themselves into backwaters or onto the manmade riverbanks and thereby extend their rides to infinity. It was common to see groups of mangy boys leaping back and forth between rafts or intentionally capsizing those of newly made enemies, like gangs of half-naked pirates staking claim to the surf. No one in an official position at Action Park seemed to care. They were probably just as drunk as the patrons.

They closed the place down, of course. In the ’90s. How could such a place survive the ’90s, the decade of CD warning stickers, of designated driving, of bicycle helmets? I learned today that its owners just barely kept it running through the ’80s, and then only by doing things like establishing their own insurance company (based out of the Cayman Islands, natch) and buying a fleet of ambulances for the surrounding town of Vernon, so its hospital could keep up with the park’s constant stream of ER cases. Or are those urban legends too?

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Juxtaposin’

Fenster writes:

A current ad for T-Mobile (music by the band Said the Whale)

The Merrymakers, Monument of Me (1995)

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“The Great Beauty”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

01_Toni_Servillo_La_grande_bellezza_foto_di_Gianni_Fiorito.JPGA fanciful jaunt through modern-day Rome seen through the eyes of a nearing-the-end-of-the-road libertine, “The Great Beauty” consciously evokes Fellini, though it’s free of Fellini’s attenuation and his lordly high-handedness. Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino has the advertising-soaked sensibility of an up-market vulgarian. Rather than fussily poke at decadence, as Fellini often did, Sorrentino revels in it; he has a love for polished surfaces and fever-dream exaggeration that rivals that of Paul Verhoeven or Brian De Palma. Sorrentino’s hero, Jep (the gallantly hangdog Toni Servillo), is a well-known writer. As a young man he wrote a novel that even he now considers pretentious. But rather than devote himself to his talent, he’s spent life in pursuit of leisure and sensual pleasure. (In his happier moments, Jep is proud to be Rome’s most beloved gadfly.) Though the movie offers scant explanation for his lavish lifestyle, he maintains his notoriety by puttering on the occasional magazine piece. This he takes only half-seriously. After interviewing a vapid performance artist — her act involves painting the Soviet flag on her pubis, then running face-first into a stone wall – he casually, bemusedly eviscerates her. Perhaps because Jep has so little time remaining (he’s just turned 65), he has little patience for moral or artistic preening.

The success of “The Great Beauty” is, I think, inseparable from its cynicism. It’s a cynicism that derives from Jep’s predisposition, his outlook. In its best moments the movie has a wry, observational quality that is reminiscent of the Italian social comedies of the ’60s, movies like “Divorce, Italian Style” and “Seduced and Abandoned.” And it’s often pleasingly, genially caustic. When Sorrentino tries to make points — about lost love, the death of high culture, the irrelevancy of the Church — he stumbles, as he does when he allows the movie to slip into the gloop of magic realism. Still, Sorrentino’s visuospatial sense is so keen, and Cristiano Travaglioli’s editing so quicksilvery, that you cruise right over the flaws. Watching it I felt as I do when a particularly mellifluous talker whisks away my better judgement in a gale of flimflammery. I hesitate to praise Sorrentino for what amounts to tricking me. But that trick is so much a part of the movie’s fabric that it hardly seems fair to complain. It’s part of Sorrentino’s (and Jep’s) Pirandellian put-on.

The Rome of “The Great Beauty” is a city shorn of its cultural heritage. Even its nobles have been reduced to sullen theme park attractions. When they’re not furtively visiting the public museums that were once their homes, they’re renting themselves out for parties thrown by the nouveau glitterati. While it’s tempting to compare the movie’s bustling, life-as-a-big-buffet vibe to the films of Robert Altman, “The Great Beauty” is perhaps too tightly wound to support the analogy. Structurally as well as metaphorically, it’s a death spiral. When we’re shown revelers engaged in a nightmare-lit conga, the face of each frozen in a rictus of semi-voluntary pleasure, it’s hard not to think of the danse macabre, or to wonder at Sorrentino’s ability to invest corrosiveness with a melancholy joie de vivre. (More than once I flashed on the work of that great contemporary nihilist, Gaspar Noé.) Sorrentino’s central conceit — that life is a phantasmagoria, a stream of highly personal sensations that abruptly ends when you die – isn’t much. But when a movie is this consistently fun to watch, I guess it’ll do.

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Quote Du Jour: Joan Didion on J. Paul Getty

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

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In a way [J. Paul Getty] seems to have wanted only to do something no one else could or would do. In his posthumous book, As I See It, he advises us that he never wanted “one of those concrete-bunker-type structures that are the fad among museum architects.” He refused to pay for any “tinted-glass-and-stainless-steel monstrosity.” He assures us that he was “neither shaken nor surprised” when his villa was finished and “certain critics sniffed.” He had “calculated the risks.” He knew that he was flouting the “doctrinaire and elitist” views he believed endemic in “many Art World (or should I say Artsy-Craftsy?) quarters.”

Doctrinaire and elitist. Artsy-craftsy. On the surface Getty would appear to have been a case of he-knew-what-he-liked-and-he-built-it, a tax dodge from the rather louche world of the international rich, and yet the use of that word “elitist” strikes an interesting note. The man who built himself the Getty [Villa] never saw it, although it opened a year and a half before his death. He seems to have liked the planning of it. He personally approved every paint sample. He is said to have taken immense pleasure in every letter received from anyone who visited the museum and liked it (such letters were immediately forwarded to him by the museum staff), but the idea of the place seems to have been enough, and the idea was this: here was a museum built not for those elitist critics but for “the public.” Here was a museum that would be forever supported by its founders alone, a museum that need never depend on any city or state or federal funding, a place forever “open to the public and free of all charges.”

As a matter of fact large numbers of people who do not ordinarily visit museums like the Getty [Villa] a great deal, just as its founder knew they would. There is one of those peculiar social secrets at work here. On the whole “the critics” distrust great wealth, but “the public” does not. On the whole “the critics” subscribe to the romantic view of man’s possibilities, but “the public” does not. In the end the Getty [Villa] stands above the Pacific Coast Highway as one of those odd monuments, a palpable contract between the very rich and the people who distrust them the least.

– Joan Didion, “The Getty” from The White Album

gettyvilla1

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Sunday Jazz Selection

Fenster writes:

Some Dirge, from A Genuine Tong Funeral (1967), Carla Bley and Gary Burton

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Federer/Djokovich in Monte Carlo

Paleo Retiree writes:

Lots of clay court magic to be enjoyed in this recent Roger/Novak battle, with Roger showing almost as much sparkle, wit and athletic resourcefulness as he routinely did when he was in his middle 20s.

Previous Federer highlight reels: here, here, and here.

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