REVIEW BY MATT CARNEY
Green Apple Books (San Francisco)
Visionary amusement park designer Albert Grass founded The Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society in 1926 after failing to drum up the necessary interest or funding to rebuild Dreamland park along strict Freudian principles; the previous Dreamland park having been lost to fire in 1911. It is easy to imagine his excitement when Kodak unveiled the 16mm camera with safety film in 1923. If he couldn’t create a space for the public to literally access The Conscious or The Libido (the doorway to the latter having been placed exactly where you would imagine) then he could at least help an interested group of amateurs explore the landscape of their dreams in Freudian terms through the shooting and editing tricks he picked up overseas during The Great War. The resulting ephemeral footage, culled from throughout the decades-long run of the society, illuminates the quotidian worries that came to bear on the members’ dreams. Walter Benjamin’s belief that dreams tell us “who we are in a social context rather than regulating the imagination to a timeless historical sphere” is on wonderful display in each.
Nine of these “dream films” are collected on a DVD firmly encased in clear plastic and pinned inside the back cover of The Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society and Its Circle, the beautifully printed catalogue from the 2009 exhibition of the same name at The Coney Island Museum, curated from its archives by experimental media artist Zoe Beloff. The book also includes story of Freud’s visit to the park by Norman Klein, Amy Herzog’s essay on the displays of trauma in the Lillie Beatrice Santangelo’s World in Wax Museum, and pages and pages of beautifully scanned illustrations, advertisements, and photographs: a celebration of ephemera and the role it plays, much like our own dreams, in illuminating and making present all possible pasts and all possible futures. That the speculative and fabricated reside alongside the bits of “true” ephemera is even more in keeping in the spirit of the park. It is possible to figure out which is which with research, but I recommend reading it through at least once as the glorious historical record that it possibly is.
The Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society and Its Circle: Dream Films 1926-1972 is published and distributed by Christine Burgin.