Over the years, Coney Island has consistently served as an inspiration for artists of all types. Check out photographer Gayle Tanaka’s show at SOHO20 Chelsea, for a current example. This week we thought we’d step into the wayback machine and take a look at Coney Island at Night, one of the great early Edison films, directed by Edwin S. Porter back in 1905, when New York was the center of the filmmaking world and Hollywood didn’t even have a name. (See last week’s issue of the magazine for more.) It’s an amazing, dreamy vision of Coney Island, all the more remarkable for the then-novel camera techniques required to capture it.
These early films have also been on our minds lately because we’re still reeling over the International Documentary Association’s insanely myopic and presentist list of the 25 Best Documentaries of all time. Looking at the IDA’s list, which features exactly one (1) film made before 1967, you’d be hard-pressed to recall that, in fact, the documentary was the very first cinematic genre. Either way, Coney Island at Night’s reputation is secure. For this and others, check out Kino’s Edison: The Invention of the Movies DVD set, a priceless, exhaustive collection of groundbreaking early films. —Bilge Ebiri