Interview: Revisiting The Lost Arcade With Director Kurt Vincent
We’ve been seeing a lot more video game-oriented documentaries as of late, but one that’s of [...]
We've been seeing a lot more video game-oriented documentaries as of late, but one that's of particular interest is The Lost Arcade. Directed by Kurt Vincent, the film takes a close look at the Chinatown Fair, the last arcade in New York City that gained legendary status with many of its players.
"Opened in the early 1940's, Chinatown Fair, famous for its dancing and tic tac
toe playing chickens, survived turf wars between rival gangs, increases in rent, and the rise of the home gaming system to become an institution and haven for kids from all five boroughs. A documentary portrait of the Chinatown Fair and its denizens, The Lost Arcade is a eulogy for and a celebration of the arcade gaming community, tenacity, and Dance Dance Revolutionary spirit," the official movie description reads.
Set for release on June 1st across iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Steam and Vimeo, the film takes a fascinating look at the now-dormant arcade scene, and how Chinatown Fair makes it thrive.
To get a better idea of what the film is about, we were able to sit down with director Kurt Vincent to discuss its creation, as well as everything Chinatown Fair. It's definitely a good read for those of you who love your arcade gaming.
Chinatown Fair's Greatness...And Chickens
First off, what prompted you to make The Lost Arcade? Did you just feel it was the perfect time to re-explore the lost arcade scene?
No, I never thought about arcades or video games as a subject before. When I heard a rumor that Chinatown Fair was closing I knew there was something valuable being lost because I saw it as the death of a culture.
Did you have the Chinatown Fair location in New York City in mind the whole time for The Lost Arcade? We did read about how you ran into it accidentally one night.
Yeah, I found Chinatown Fair on a Friday night with Irene Chin, my girlfriend and creative partner. We were in awe of what we witnessed. We played a few games, but mostly just took the scene in. It was packed, the front doors fogged up, loud as hell. We saw people secretly drinking beers in the back, couples making out, and unbelievable competition - crowds around the fighting game cabinets cheering. That first night was all it took to convince us that we should begin filming there.
What do you think is the most fascinating factor about the history of the Chinatown Fair? For me, it's probably the machine where you could play tic-tac-toe with the chicken.
Yes, the chickens are legendary. They appeared in a few movies (alongside NYC greats Pacino in Devils Advocate, and Deniro in Falling in Love). For me - the fact that Sam Palmer, a Pakistani immigrant with no knowledge of arcades or video games, bought Chinatown Fair after having a vision of Chinatown Fair in a dream without ever seeing it before in real life. It was like he was destined to take it over. I credit him with creating the safe haven that Chinatown Fair became and for keeping it open through economic hardship.
We're starting to see a re-emergence of arcades in the form of bar arcades and old-school arcades making some kind of comeback. Do you think they'll be able to replicate the "old-school" days, or do you think that time has come and gone?
I think 'bar arcades' are great and are keeping alive a part of the arcade spirit, while not completely delivering the old school arcade promise. They are inherently not all ages and for me that is important for an arcade to foster a teenage community. Also, there needs to be more competitive multi-player games. Unless good new games continue to be made there is no future in arcades. I am optimistic though - I think the bar arcades are reminding people how great the experience of coming together to play video games can be. And it is getting cheaper to produce video games, which means indie developers and smaller companies can create really good competitive arcade games - for example Killer Queen Arcade, and ReRave, both really good arcade games coming from small producers.prevnext
Keeping It Old-School
We're seeing a lot more video game-oriented documentaries these days. Do you feel that these are a vital part when it comes to teaching us about the history of gaming history, or perhaps they hold some deeper significance in pop culture overall?
Video games are still young compared to other forms of entertainment/sport. As the medium matures you are having artists, historians, and creators examining them. It's going to change the way we perceive video games. People are being forced to take them seriously - not just because of the media attention, but because of the huge amount of money that is being made in the industry. Soon enough we will have a president who is a gamer. From now on there will be a multitude of video game movies.
We see you talked with a number of old-school gamers and prominent figures when it came to The Lost Arcade. How mind-blowing was it talking with everyone about it?
I have a lot of respect for anyone that is a master of some skill. Talking to these guys who are/were literally the best fighting game players was trippy. I got such a kick out of it. Hearing Eddie Lee tell me about the time he held a Street Fighter cabinet on lock for 20 hours straight, or the time a Wall Street trader recruited Henry Cen, Arturo Sanchez, and Eddie Lee to be day traders on the hunch that the best fighting game players would have an innate ability to succeed at day trading.
Do you have any particular favorite arcades you like to visit besides Chinatown Fair? Or perhaps gaming stores?
I love Video Game New York. If you visit NYC you've got to go there. It's part museum, part store. The guys that work there know their stuff too. I also really like Silverball Museum in Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore. Great place to play pinball and classic video games.prevnext
So What's Next?
Do you feel that there's a place for both arcade and home gaming? It never hurts to have more places where you're social with friends. I prefer the classic feeling of an arcade myself.
Definitely. I think home gaming is going to become as ubiquitous as owning a TV. And I think with the popularity of video games continuing to increase the desire to play in arcades will also increase, I hope at least.
What do you think about the film's reception thus far? You must be thrilled about its digital release next month.
I've been blown away. We have shown the movie all over the world in festivals and theaters. I am really excited to be able to bring it to the masses online! Now everyone will have a chance to watch. I am nervous, but mostly excited! I am ready to see it out in the world.
What's next for you now that The Lost Arcade is ready for audiences to enjoy? Or are you simply taking the time right now to relax and enjoy a few games?
Irene and I had so much fun working together on this movie we have formed a directing duo called 26 Aries and are working on some new projects, web videos, short form stuff. And developing out next full length movie!prev