T&V film critic to have his own film screened at Coney Island Festival

Seth Shire Photo by Sabina Mollot

Seth Shire
Photo by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

Stuyvesant Town resident Seth Shire, who pens the weekly film reviews for Town & Village, usually with a focus on independent films and documentaries, will have a documentary of his own shown at the upcoming Coney Island Film Festival.

“Mad Santa,” a shortie at eight and a half minutes, is a series of interviews and other footage taken of Scott Baker, a sideshow performer/theater actor and during the holiday season, Santa Claus at Bloomingdale’s.

Shire, who, when not seeing or writing about films, teaches sociology classes at CUNY’s Queens College, met Baker at the department store last year when he too was working there. He was teaching then too but worked during the Christmas season at Santaland as head elf. It was there that he learned, from Baker, that Bloomingdale’s was the right place to be Santa.

“Scott didn’t like Macy’s because it was like a factory with six Santas,” said Shire, also noting that the kids would get rushed there. “At Bloomingdale’s, they took their time with the kids,” said Shire. Though there was also a weekend Santa, Shire soon noticed that Baker took special care to bring the magic of the holiday to the kids, especially those getting older and more skeptical about whether to believe in Santa.

The title of the film, explained Shire, is that Baker “is an eccentric character. He’s not angry. He’s a performer.”

When not in character as Kris Kringle, Baker has been delighting audiences for years at Coney Island’s Sideshow by the Seashore with acts like light bulb eating and sticking a screwdriver up his nose.

When Shire asked him how he did his screwdriver trick, the response was, “It’s not a trick.” Apparently, Shire learned, “You do have a lot of empty space in the back of your nose.”

When filming Baker for “Mad Santa,” much of the time, Shire found that he didn’t have to ask questions or do anything, really, other than let his subject be himself. One particularly interesting moment, at Santaland, occurred when a European woman, in broken English, said, “I want my baby to go down on Santa.”

“She kept saying it,” said Shire who was later told about it by Baker. “I would just film anything that seemed interesting. I always had my camera with me.” Baker’s responses with those who wanted to take pictures with him earned him a loyal following though. “There’s a group of firemen that show up every year to take their picture with him,” said Shire.

Baker, meanwhile, told Town & Village, he considers himself a “showman,” rather than a carnie, since he has

The subject of "Mad Santa": Scott Baker in character Photo courtesy of Scott Baker

The subject of “Mad Santa”: Scott Baker in character
Photo courtesy of Scott Baker

never after all worked at a carnival. He began his sideshow work at Coney Island after organizers there invited him to do so in the mid-1990s when Baker was working at nightclubs throughout the city as a magician. For his sideshow routine, he has about 40 acts, including the light bulb eating. When doing this, he favors the clear, 25-watt variety. “I usually do 100-watt bulbs, but I’m on a diet,” he explained.

When it’s not sideshow season, Baker does some theater work. One job included a 12-year run in the Broadway show “Oh! Calcutta!” He also has worked in Vegas, sharing stages with bands like The Coasters and The Platters for his magic act. But for the past 12 years, when it’s holiday season, Baker has been Santa at Bloomingdale’s. He’s also been Santa at other stores and at private parties before that.

In some ways, the Santa routine is similar to the sideshow one, noted Baker, in that, “They’re both exhausting. You have to keep your stamina up or you lose character.” Both experiences though are about “magic and miracles and ideally spreading joy and happiness.”

Along with “Mad Santa,” Baker will be involved in two other films at this year’s Coney Island Festival. One, “Rehearsal,” focuses on him as he prepares for a magic act. Another, “Welcome to Madness,” is a horror movie he wrote and starred in.”

He’s actually a festival veteran, having been featured in a film called “Mr. Dangle,” shown at the first Coney Island Film Festival ever, just a week after 9/11.

“Mad Santa” is the first film to be directed by Shire since he studied film at New York University, and this is his first piece to be screened at any festival. Prior to his teaching work with CUNY, Shire worked for years in film post production, a job which required quite a bit of editing. Films he’s worked on include “Get Shorty” and Martin Scorsese’s “Casino.” He still does some post-production projects today and is currently involved with a film called “Wish You Well,” staring Ellen Burstyn, and which is based on the novel of the same name. Over the summer, he did reception at RZO, a firm that does accounting and financial management of artists’ tours. Clients there include the Rolling Stones and David Bowie.

“If you’re going to work for an accountant, it’s the most glamorous job you can have,” Shire joked, after having once picked up the phone to find himself talking to Mick Jagger. In his writing for this newspaper and for his classes, he also often interviews filmmakers and other performers. Recent interviewees for his classes were Stuy Town documentary maker Doug Block and Saturday Night Live alum Colin Quinn.

The Coney Island Film Festival is set to take place from September 20-22. The festival will feature many new films as well as the 1970s-era film “The Warriors,” about a gang in Brooklyn. “Mad Santa” is scheduled to be shown on Saturday, September 21 as part of the afternoon program that begins at 5 p.m. A Saturday screening pass, which includes all screenings that day except for “The Warriors,” is $15. Admission to that film, which is an event held as a fundraiser for Coney Island USA, is a donation of no less than $12. A Sunday screening pass is $10 and includes all screenings that day. Opening night party is $25. Full festival pass is $50 and includes opening night party and all screenings except “The Warriors.” Individual screenings are $7. The venue is Sideshow by the Seashore, 1208 Surf Avenue in Brooklyn. For more information, http://www.coneyislandfilmfestival.com.

A version of this article ran in Town & Village’s print edition on September 12.



Letters to the Editor, Sept. 19

Why Quinn, Thompson, Liu and Weiner lost

The following letter was originally published as a comment on the Town & Village Blog in response to the story, “Residents choose de Blasio,” T&V, Sept. 12.

The lesson from this primary election is that our politicians need to take care of their constituents, because if they take their base for granted they will pay the price. Also, any narcissism will be severely punished on Election Day.

Chris Quinn lost Greenwich Village and Chelsea by 15 points to de Blasio because she assumed her own district would vote for her, in spite of St. Vincent’s closing, her crush on Bloomberg and many other quality of life issues she neglected to address. In the end even the gay vote wasn’t there for her because she wasn’t there for them. She narcissistically assumed she could do whatever she pleased and her base would follow. They followed de Blasio instead.

Bill Thompson lost Harlem by 10 points and the total black vote citywide to de Blasio because he spent the last four years between elections actually acting a lot like Bloomberg; becoming an investment banker, summering in the Hamptons and eating at his favorite sushi restaurant on Irving Place. Even though his daughter lives in Stuy Town he could no longer connect with middle class people, and he just assumed his base would be there for him. It is telling that his biggest support was in the white portions of Staten Island, so maybe it’s time for him to change parties.

John Liu won the Asian vote in Elmhurst and Chinatown and everywhere else, because he paid attention to his base and was always there for them. Hopefully he will use his skills to broaden his appeal in the future, if so he will be the one to watch next time around.

Anthony Weiner proved that narcissism is not an endearing quality, and being a lying, perverted, unhinged narcissist is even less attractive. He was the biggest loser as he went from the early frontrunner to the punchline of a joke no one is laughing about anymore. He didn’t need an election as much as he needed a marriage counselor. Like many, I was willing to forgive and support him at first, but his atrocious handling of his personal affairs and his arrogant treatment of the press reminded me more of a Tea Party candidate than the progressive he used to be.

In the end Bill de Blasio was the only one who got it, on stop and frisk, on affordable housing, on our Bloomberg fatigue and on taxing the rich to fund our schools. Bloomberg thinks the solution to all our problems is more Russian billionaires, and that higher taxes will just scare them away. As if the rich have ever been scared away by the high price of living that they themselves helped create.

Are the rich really going to leave NYC and the multi-million dollar condo they just bought over a few thousand dollars in extra taxes? Where are they going to go, back to Russia? Or New Jersey? How’s the view of Central Park from over there?

Bill de Blasio won because he gives us hope for a fairer city, with his smart interracial family, and with his progressive agenda, which is why he won big on his opponent’s turf.

But he also won because of his stark contrast with another narcissist named Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg’s last gasp insult of accusing de Blasio of racism for using his son Dante in the best campaign ad in decades reminded us all why we are tired of the billionaire who thinks he knows better than everyone just because he has more money. Democracy isn’t about telling people what to do, it’s about honest representation of the people, listening and caring about them and imposing their will on society and not your own. That’s why de Blasio won this round and will be the next Mayor of NYC.

John Small, EMP

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Basements in PCV still closed

Garodnick asks for timetable,

CW says approvals from city take time

Generators outside Peter Cooper Village buildings during early stages of the cleanup/repair efforts in November  Photo by Sabina Mollot

Generators outside Peter Cooper Village buildings during early stages of the cleanup/repair efforts in November
Photo by Sabina Mollot

 By Sabina Mollot

Nearly eleven months after Hurricane Sandy, Council Member Dan Garodnick has called on CWCapital to finish the repairs in hard hit buildings in Peter Cooper — especially since they were supposed to have been completed this month.

This was a timeline given by management, and noted Garodnick in a letter to CWCapital Asset Management Vice President Andrew MacArthur, was last mentioned in an official property update to residents in August.

“It is now September, and as far as the residents can tell, none of those basements appear close to opening,” said Garodnick, in the letter, which is dated September 4.

He added that residents deserve at least an update with some sort of explanation since residents in 15 PCV buildings have had to do without bike storage or laundry rooms. (Those buildings have had temporary washers and dryers.) Residents have also been unable to access the basement to get in and out of their buildings. Meanwhile, instead, Garodnick said, the only updates residents do get are for things management wants to promote.

“The updates being sent out give information about more whimsical matters like last week’s photo contest — with no word about these basic services,” said Garodnick. Though he was the one to push CW to give residents a timetable for the completion of the work, Garodnick said he never expected that the September date wouldn’t be enough time. “This has taken far longer than anyone could have reasonably expected,” he told T&V, “and residents deserve an explanation and compensation.”

Following the loss of Sandy-related services in 15 Peter Cooper buildings and two Stuyvesant Town buildings, the Tenants Association filed an application for rent reductions with the state housing agency. However, there has still been no decision on that, the Tenants Association said this week, and in his letter, Garodnick called on CW not to wait for that claim to be resolved before paying up.

“We’re getting close to the one-year mark here,” he said.

Garodnick said that as of Tuesday he has not gotten a response from CW, but on Wednesday, after being asked for comment from T&V, Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CWCapital said that the delay is due to the slow process of getting city approval for the various aspects of the work.

“As we’ve said, rebuilding the 17 basements that were damaged during Hurricane Sandy is a complex project that, beyond the physical work and procurement of materials with long lead times, involves numerous agencies that must review and approve plans for every aspect of each basement’s infrastructure and careful scheduling and staging of contractors to ensure the work is completed as quickly and safely as possible with the minimum disruption for our residents,” Moriarty said.

“As such, it is not uncommon for construction projects of this scale to take a long time. Although some residents may not yet see physical work being done in their basement, we assure you that significant progress has been made in all basements. We are making every effort to finish this work as soon as possible, and expect it will be done later this fall.”

Moriarty said that as far as the rent rebates are concerned, the Tenants Association’s application, previously slammed by CW in a court document as “petty” and “mean-spirited,” was also helping to slow things down.

“We offered to sit down with the TA in January to negotiate exactly that,” said Moriarty. “However, they declined to meet and elected to file a diminution of services claim instead.  It is disappointing as many of the steps the TA has taken have actually prolonged our ability to get the required approvals.  It seems that this could have been more easily resolved.”

In response, Garodnick said, “Rather than get into a he said, she said about TA management negotiating, CW should just do the right thing and compensate tenants.”

Though we were unable to reach the Tenants Association by press time for the print edition, TA Chair Susan Steinberg and President John Marsh later responded to say that the application for a rent reduction doesn’t affect management’s ability to restore the laundry rooms. They added that filing the application strengthened their ability to negotiate.