Playland Documentary

Remembering Playland at the Beach

(Unrated) Laffing Sal’s place in local pop-culture history is assured, even if the mechanical harridan did traumatize at least some of the young visitors to San Francisco’s long-gone and much-missed amusement park Playland at the Beach. Several of the subjects interviewed in Tom Wyrsch’s wonderful documentary recall how terrifying her banshee howl could be. Not as terrifying, however, as the Diving Bell ride, which plunged thrill seekers into a tank of water and then shot them up a hydraulic shaft. Seems that in its later years, the diving chamber leaked copiously and its windows were covered with a sinister layer of algae. Whitney’s Playland, located at the farthest western verge of San Francisco by Ocean Beach and just below the Sutro Baths, opened in 1928 and lasted until 1972. Wyrsch’s film lovingly re-creates some of the spectacle of this 365-day-a-year carnival with old pictures and film footage plus lots of interviews, many of them with members of a group dedicated to maintaining a museum of Playland relics. Among many bits of fascinating trivia is the revelation that some of Playland’s best minds were whisked away by a guy named Disney to build an even bigger and better place called Disneyland. The only oversight is the failure to mention that at the end of The Lady From Shanghai, Orson Welles’ character is seen walking past the Funhouse at Playland. (Plays Mar 17 at 7 and 9:15pm and Mar 20 at noon at the Balboa Theater in San Francisco; (MSG)

Note, some shows are selling out, and shows are being added, so be sure to check the website.)

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