Arcades smell of nostalgia. They embody a primordial memory that is slowly fading away, as most people now play at the solitude of their home, engaging with remote opponents instead. The colourful pinball machines, the old-fashioned video games, the loud music, the boiterous talk and social environment where people play, compete and socialise have almost completely disappeared.
The Lost Arcade opens with the dictionary meaning of “arcade”, which originally signifies “an arched shelter”. This sentiment of protection (of being sheltered) has now disappeared. The vast majority of the 24,000 arcades that dotted the US in the 1980s – providing an explosion of colours to Chinatown and Times Square in New York as well as other metropolises – are mostly gone. This is with the exception of Chinatown Fair (pictured above), one of the few surviving arcades, which thrives on melancholy and a few die-hard fans.
The puerility of some of the attractions is both awkward and fascinating. There were shooting games, racing competitions, Zoltar the future-teller machine and even a real dancing chicken. There is something very distant and eerie about the latter, perhaps because Ian Curtis from Joy Division killed himself after watching a very groovy hen in the Werner Herzog’s Stroszek (1977) – though the movie does not make this connection!
The movie is packed with interviews with old and new users, mostly adults. It notes that today’s teenagers were born after the demise of the arcades began, and so they are not recurring faces at the Chinatown Fair. Interviews with the owner Sam Palmer also help to establish what the business relies mostly on bucolic and old-fashioned users.
The arcade community is hardly there nowadays. It used to be almost like a cult or a religion – minus the strict doctrine. Arcades are now tacky, decadent but still strangely charming. What’s gonna happen next? Watch the film and find out, before the last arcade games can only be seen at a museum.
The Lost Arcade showed last week as part of the Open City Documentary Film Festival in London. You can find more information about the next screenings and distribution rights by clicking here.
You can watch the film trailer below: