Monday, November 16, 2015

Famous Nathan

The founder of the Coney Island hot dog stand is examined in this documentary. Featuring footage of Coney Island, old photos, home movies of family members, and interviews with former workers, I had a difficult time remembering who was mad at whom. Family members were often reluctant to speak on the record about Nathan Handwerker, sometimes making contradictory statements to the previously interviewed person, rendering it difficult to get a reading on the chain's founder. One former worker talked about working the line while on LSD, and recounted a legend where it was alleged that someone laced the mustard pots with acid, which forced the stand to replace the old wooded sticks meant to smear the dogs with condiments to the now-ubiquitous plastic packets.

A couple of years ago, I went to Coney Island for the Coney Island Film Festival, and almost missed my screening because I waited in line for a half and hour for some soggy, lackluster Nathan's fries. I'm not particularly sorry I stopped at Nathan's, but watching the documentary made me nostalgic for the lightning-quick, old-fashioned hot dog stand experience that must have awed Coney Island visitors at the original Nathan's.

Anyway, after selling 500 million dogs, the company went through changes, and suffered a decline that mirrored the one that plagued Coney Island itself. Famous Nathan felt overlong, probably due to the abundance of interviews that became confusing. Still, it was nice to see vintage footage of the stand and Coney Island during its heyday.

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