Set against the iconic Coney Island boardwalk, "Brighton Beach" is a neighborhood in constant re-formation. This 1980 documentary offers a vérité portrait of the immigrant communities that changed the Brooklyn neighborhood — mostly Soviet Jews and Puerto Ricans — as they mingle on the boardwalk with long-time residents, eye one another, and coexist around a shared sense of uprootedness.
The documentary is not just a peek at the neighborhood during that time — its inclusion of archival footage and photographs from throughout the 1900s renders it a 20th-century retrospective. Brighton Beach neighbors Coney Island, which for decades was New Yorkers' epicenter of summertime recreation. Footage spanning every era depicts different generations of beachgoers, bygone rides like the Parachute Jump or Human Pool Table in action, performers like the Barry Sisters at the Amphitheater, or more niche events like a beauty contest for elderly women.It's catnip for history nerds, and the visual conversation between past and present makes for a fascinating study in how neighborhoods evolve. That more than 40 years have elapsed since the initial release only deepens this conversation — now, the entire thing is a period piece.