The Secret Inaction of a Cancelled Documentary —
Privately, I’d been working on another documentary.
Yes, I know I’m working on three, and yes, they are very time consuming, but when a subject inhabits your brain, won’t let go, you have to let it run wild for a while.
The subject was Action Park, an amusement part in New Jersey that had one of the most amazing reputations you could imagine. It was truly dangerous, and it was also one of the most beloved places in the minds of people who went there. I went there, friends went there. Some people went there are got very hurt. A half-dozen people went there, and died.
The working title was Traction Park.
Trust me, there’s a movie there.
If you want some of the best sources of reading up on Action Park, you’d do good to read the Weird NJ site overview of it, the Wikipedia entry about it (but read through the historical edits, as much has been shifted and removed), and there are articles about it, spread around the net (although the WeirdNJ ones, old and new, have gotten some amazing stories in the comments that others did not).
I had documentation on the park, had taken a quiet research trip to the current incarnation of the location, and had pulled in a bunch of information. Nothing was shot yet.
But now, breaking wide, are a pair of short films about Action Park, featuring the WeirdNJ guys, and with interviews with the founder’s son and employees. And some bonus footage as well.
If you want to see them, they’re here.
So yeah, that ends my plans right then and there.
Yes, ultimately, a documentary by me on this subject would have a different feeling than this short documentary pair that has came out, and I was going to go into some dark and light places they would not. You’d have teared up more during mine.
I’d have been more focused on the ideas of freedom versus safety, about how Action Park was a libertarian dreamland – a park that could be incredibly fun or kill you, where you could have the real experience of near-injury and drive home knowing you did something amazing. I wanted to interview people whose relatives had died there and people who worked at the park, along with people who considered it the best summer event of their lives. I’m a completist, as you know – so we’re talking about 50-70 interviews.
But I don’t have much time in this world, and doing a documentary that’s somewhat better on a subject that has been done before is not the best use of me or my time. I do have a lot of projects on my plate – it’s just this one burned inside, a plan.
There’s no tragedy here – not a frame of footage had been shot, and the interviews were not lined up. It’s an unmade project, one that doesn’t sit half-finished – it was never beyond the research phase.
If the DEFCON documentary had not happened, if I’d not gotten that call, I’d have probably secretly shot this movie. But DEFCON got there, and I made that instead. On the whole, I think that’s a real good trade-off. Nobody would have made the DEFCON film the way I had, and I got to be really close and enjoy the company who’ve had a huge influence on my life. I only went to Action Park once – I’ve spent the equivalent of months of time in Las Vegas around DEFCON. It was a good choice.
So yeah, now you know. Surprise!
P.S. Really, read up the history of Action Park. It’s insane.
Categorised as: documentary | jason his own self
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Growing up in Chicago, I had no idea Action Park
existed, and at least more people will know given your pointers to the short
films. Chicago had “Riverview” Amusement Park (at the corner of Belmont and Western) which killed and maimed some folks over the years but not to the degree of Action Park. Thanks for sharing the secret, and now I know a little about (Tr)action Park.
I can’t help but wonder what Kevin Smith would do with this subject. I know he’s not a documentarian, but it just feels like this subject should have his finger prints all over it.
I assume a Kevin Smith movie based lightly off Action Park wouldn’t be much different than the movie Adventureland.
Man, the Alpine Slide! I coveted that from afar after it was featured in National Geographic’s “World” magazine – my US cousins sent me a subscription. It looked like the coolest, funnest thing ever to a suburban UK 10 year old. Never knew where it was or what it was called though.
My family used to make annual pilgrimages to Peru, Vermont, hope of the USA’s oldest and longest Alpine Slide. They’re scattered all over the world, with several in Germany, I believe. Find your nearest one and have a blast!
Holy guacamole ….
Did you ever bring back feelings.
Action Park was THE destination for entertainment coolness: Great Adventure be damned!
I live in Manhattan & you’d see AP commercials ALL the time on either The Uncle Floyd Show or
on Channel 11 [WPIX-TV]!!