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Review: ‘The Lost Arcade,’ a Love Letter to Old New York


Chinatown Fair as seen in the Kurt Vincent documentary “The Lost Arcade.” Credit 26 Aries

Part scrappy, part sweet and wholly enjoyable, “The Lost Arcade” is a love letter to a vanished piece of New York, and a little wish for the future.

This documentary, directed by Kurt Vincent, recounts the golden years (the 1980s and early ’90s) of New York City arcades, when teenagers slid countless quarters into video games. They were doing more than playing, though — an underground culture formed with its own rivalries, heroes and friendships, particularly among those who specialized in fighter games. Pac-Man rates only a few mentions here, as does pinball, a disappointment for every young boy (and girl) who played the silver ball.


Trailer: ‘The Lost Arcade’

A preview of the film.

By 26 ARIES on Publish Date August 11, 2016. Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive.

Eventually the film focuses on Chinatown Fair, among the last Manhattan survivors of the era. The arcade was to gamers what CBGB was to punk rockers, and the sense of sorrow when the gritty place closes in 2011 is deep. Its later reopening under new management leads to mixed emotions when the space proves to be a bit too shiny and slick.

There’s another documentary to be made about the wide-ranging reasons for the nationwide disappearance of arcades — gentrification and the decline of malls; the rise of home gaming consoles. While “The Lost Arcade” touches on those, Mr. Vincent mostly centers on Chinatown Fair and its die-hard patrons. That’s enough to carry this film. His interviews with players and with Sam Palmer, a former owner of the arcade, are full of hard-edge affection and scruffy nostalgia.

Though the film loses some steam once it moves into the present, it finds a measure of hope in Next Level, an arcade in Brooklyn opened by a former Chinatown Fair employee. There, the players have found a way to keep their culture alive. Looks like they’ve learned something from those fighter games.

The Lost Arcade

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