George Romero’s long lost educational film commissioned by the Lutheran Society in 1973 has been found and restored. Upon viewing the finished product in 1973, the Lutheran Society found it too disturbing to be seen. I guess the truth of how the elderly are treated was too much to bear. Luckily for us, the George A. Romeo Foundation restored this lost film, so it can be viewed by the public, if you dare to watch it. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a horror film per se, but it is a highly upsetting and depressing depiction of the mistreatment of the elderly. This depiction comes in the form of a surreal, dreamlike (nightmare) experience Lincoln Maazel’s unnamed character has at “The Amusement Park.” Many will remember Maazel’s performance in another Romero film, Martin (1977). He is the only “real” actor in the movie. All the other “actors” were volunteers, which makes this all the more impressive.
Maazel introduces the film and speaks again at the end. He implores viewers to have empathy and also be cognizant of the fact that they too will be old one day. What happens in between is something everyone should watch and consider. It is quite powerful, and I wish the Lutheran Society had been brave enough to use it back in the day.
Maazel starts his day in the park by encountering himself in a room of white. The beaten down version of himself warns that there is nothing out there, but the freshly dressed and hopeful version wants to see for himself. And boy, does he ever see! Each portion of The Amusement Park has vignettes illustrating how the elderly are systematically degraded. The only exception to this rule comes in the form of a wealthy older man who is treated with great respect because of his wealth. Sound like real life? Yeah, I thought so too. There is even a sequence where a young couple goes to the fortune teller’s tent to see if they will be together forever…the vision is NOT what they were expecting! Elders losing the right to drive, check! See the bummer car sequence! There is even a part with two carnival barkers that made me think of “reverse” mortgages! Romero was ahead of his time! Throughout, a masked “grim reaper” can be seen lurking in the background. For the most part, all the the elderly people in this film are ignored and at worst, pushed around by the younger people at the park, but there is one exception. This exception is the breaking point for Maazel’s character. A young girl is kind to him and wants him to read to her (she even shares a piece of fried chicken with him), but as this sweet exchange is taking place, viewers can see the cruel action that is about to befall Maazel. After this, he is utterly defeated, and as a viewer, I was too.
At 54 minutes, this educational film is a heartbreaking critique on aging in America. The Lutheran Society picked the right person to critique society, but they just didn’t have to guts to let this scathing examination see the light of day. It is sad to me that this film remained lost until Romero, who has a cameo in the bumper car sequence, was deceased. I wonder what he would think of his “lost” educational film finally seeing the light of day?