Through taking a camera into Chinatown Fair during the famous New York City arcade’s final days in 2011, freshman filmmaker Kurt Vincent found the story he wanted, and also a better one he had not foreseen.
The expected focus of The Lost Arcade would be to chronicle the closing of what was an institution for the Pac-Man generation — those boys and (a scant few) girls for whom Chinatown Fair represented more than a game’s three coin-op lives: an escape from their real ones, 25 cents at a time.
And yes, the documentary is that, but what also emerges from that construct is what makes the movie special: a story of the fabled American dream made reality for Sam Palmer. A Pakistani gentleman, Palmer was not the founding owner of the place, but he was its heart. In the days of gorillas hurling barrels at chivalrous plumbers, of defending Earth from symmetric lines of invading aliens and, in the arcade’s rare non-video attraction, of a live chicken that danced and played tic-tac-toe, the kindly Palmer trusted the young men whom no one else would and created an all-inclusive community in our nation’s most iconic melting pot — a task as daunting as conquering Dragon’s Lair on a single quarter.
Talented poultry aside, there appears to be nothing special about the arcade at face value. In fact, it looks too cramped for the claustrophobe and too grimy for the germaphobe, but the patrons don’t seem to care — hell, they like it the way it is. While you and I may have no familiarity with the Fair — and, therefore, no nostalgia for it — Vincent finds the angle that makes the subject remarkably relevant for us … and unexpectedly moving. The Lost Arcade is a quiet find. —Rod Lott