O Dreamland (1953)

My Summary | My Review

My Summary

BFI presents
A sequence film
    An old man polishes a Rolls Royce with license plate KXL 699. Around the corner people stroll along to the amusement park. Manic laughter from an animated cop in front of the Torture Through the Ages exhibit rings out. The exhibit has boiling oil, Joan of Arc, history portrayed by lifesize working models and your children will love it. Kids look on at a man being spun, then the rack and burning at the stake as the laugher plays behind it. A big band sound then follows. Buses pull up, people get off and women dance. A jukebox switches on and a song plays – For every drop of rain that falls. Images of lines of buses, people checking the sights, an old man holding up a hula girl model. Balloon models hang up with slogans written on them like “take me home.” A man talks into a microphone about a magician who eats fire on stage. Then the laughter returns. A huge funhouse face is seen. The record switches again, women sing along to “kiss me and when you do, hold me.” Rides are shown spinning all around, a Ferris wheel and rockets. The song changes back to the previous song. Another man speaks about a motorcycle stunt. Animals are shown in cages looking pitiful. A woman bends over for a closer look. A lion paces back and forth, kids stare, the manic laughter of a British dummy is shown and a model of a hanging moves. Games of chance – women and men try to entice passerbys to play. The ground is covered in trash. People stare at a man explaining a game as they sing “on the green, on the red #2.” Another man talks up a different game. Fat men and women are shown sitting and playing as the counting song continues. Tickets are handed out, lighted boards are shown and things spin around. In the penny arcade people put coins in games like The Cricketeer, also a claw game is played. A game with a rolling arm to collect prizes is played.
    Then to the food area. An announcer talks about the happy family restaurant, we welcome the children. People are seen eating and drinking, food is served. People smoke. As night falls, the entrance to the magic garden and Swiss Beer garden are talked up. It’s the light show you read about. Inside there are dummies playing along to music. ‘The dream I dream is yours to see over there in reality’ is shown. A dummy kisses a woman on bed. The number song comes back, Roman statues are shown and people look at them. Every time I hear a baby cry plays again and people exit. From a distance rides are shown with lights on. The End.
Margate England 1953

My Review

    This black and white short is a documentary on the Dreamland Amusement Park in the seaside town of Margate. It has many of the typical attractions in what is referred to as the summer boardwalk towns in the East Coast of the US. What makes this one stand out though is the dummy accompanied by manic laughter to attract visitors to the ‘Torture Through the Ages’ exhibit. Instead of the silliness of a house of fun or similar ride, entertainment is provided through violence. Lindsay is obviously showing how sick and twisted this is, unless the laughter was added after the fact which would be sly of the master director. The announcer even says the children will love it. Why? This was filmed only 8 years after WWII and one would think that people in the UK wouldn’t embrace something like this during that time frame, plus the Korean War was winding down at this time. Instead of something wholesome like reading a book or watching a film, this is what people do for fun. The looks on the faces of those inside seem like anything but they are having fun. They seem miserable like they are just going through the motions. He was ahead of his time as the TV culture shifted to the bad news and soulless reality show universe that is everywhere we turn today. I think he was trying to shatter the illusion that it was a pleasant place. I wonder if Lindsay was able to pass this off to the masses as something else, a fond memory to those who had been there?
    The artwork on a huge entrance to a building is impressive with its ventriloquist dummy style face. Nothing is shown of what is inside, he instead prefers to focus on the people. When a zoo area is shown, all the animals seem lethargic and lifeless, but people look at them like they are seeing something normal for the wild. He also films people from the back showing how fat they are, demonstrating excess.
I’m not sure what an authentic Swiss Beer Garden is, but it seems to consist of more weird displays with dummies that move around and large Roman looking statues. I can’t see why that is exciting or what it means.
    A couple popular songs of the day are played throughout for the soundtrack. The people singing during the bingo style game stand out for their bizarreness, I’m not sure what it was about. One scene that stood out the most to me was how aggressive the women vendors were to get people to play the games of chance. They were leaning out and practically grabbing people on the arm who were walking by. They seemed more into it than the men. What a way to make a buck.
    It’s easy for me to imagine Lindsay asking to film there saying it’s a documentary on the place, but he had an agenda that it was impossible to see what he was up to while he was filming it. Not only is the film short and sweet, a nostalgic look at the area of the time, but it’s an early indictment on the upper class society that would continue on in all his films. I don’t know how much was staged or edited to get the effect he wanted, but it is an eye opening look at the British people of the 50s who seem to be lost.

Rating: 7.5/10

© 2007-08 Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net