February 12, 2011

#41: King Kong

And the prophet said: "And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead."

An old Arabian proverb foretelling some ambiguous form of monster doom, and then: titles as big as the beast! I had only seen Peter Jackson's remake of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1933 adventure flick King Kong so it was great fun to come back to the source material on a cloudy winter day.

Company: Stephanie, sister and lover of epic filmventures

Cuisine: bacon and tomato mac and cheese (my go-to delicious albeit unhealthy lunch, which somehow seemed right for a pulpy actionfest like this one) and Diet Coke

Let me preface this whole thing by saying that in my research, I found that "jungle films" had been around and gaining popularity for twenty years, and it was only 1933! The world was fascinated with the unknown, and new scientific discoveries were being made every day, so this film must have seemed very of its time.

Down-on-his-luck movie director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is having trouble with his latest film, which he claims will change the movie industry thanks to a secret he's got (bum-BUM!!!), and his producers tell him that with the right leading lady, his film will gross twice as much. Give the audience what they want, they say, and what they want is a beautiful girl in distress. On his search, he stumbles across Ann Darrow (a luminous Fay Wray), a poor girl without a lick of acting experience trying to steal fruit from a storefront and nearly fainting from hunger. Damsel in distress, party of one.

She agrees to be in his new film, which will require her to sail with him to an island only he knows about. If she was any smarter or have anything else to do, she'd probably say no... but she says yes, and we set sail.

Denham enlists a crew and sets sail, only revealing their exact destination once they've all been at sea for several days. Their island getaway isn't exactly inviting: a tribe of angry-looking natives live on a fraction of the island, guarded by a humongous, centuries-old wall from ... well, whatever spirits/monsters/demons lie on the other side. No one's 100% sure what's over there, but Denham has some idea. The "whites knowing everything and assuming natives wouldn't know anything" thing is a little weird and archaic, but the story needs it to progress. The natives need to sacrifice a woman and it might as well be Ann. She's the best screamer.

Q: Why build that huge door if you never want the hugeness over there to cross sides? A: pageantry.

Denham's cool confidence doesn't save Ann from being kidnapped (boatnapped?) and shut in with the monster... and right on cue, he shows up, probably thinking "What's all that noise?"

Now by 2011 standards, these effects are laughable, but take note folks: this was 1933. This kind of green-screen is standard issue nowadays, and we've since explored stop motion in many genres, but at the time this was revolutionary. And even when it looks super hokey, it still looks pretty good. Poor Fay Wray, having to scream and react to NOTHING pretty much the entire film.

Gorilla v. Dino!

There's not many films on this list that are here specifically because they are entertaining. Yes, the technical elements on display here are extraordinary, and yes, there's a message, but at its heart King Kong is a action movie: damsels, beasts, thrills, chills, spills. So many action-thrillers and monster movies of today owe so much to this era of filmmaking that maybe Kong is a placeholder on the list for the American Popular Movie, for the Drive-In Movie. I'd argue it's the most "populist" film on the list, here for few other reasons that it's just fun. I mean, come on. A humongous gorilla and a T-Rex duke it out. It also works because it's not clogged with subplots: gorilla steals girl, guys save girl, girl gets stolen again, etc.

One part of the film that hasn't stood the test of time is of course what it is at its core, which is what some feel is an allegory for male dominance over women. The film was actually banned in Nazi Germany because its subtextual threat to Aryan womanhood. Damn Nazis, they'd find anything a subtextual threat. But seriously, modern lit-crit could probably find a brillion things wrong with the story, find it sexist or racist or what-have-you, but of course, it was all meant to be in good fun in 1933 ... right?

When the giant beast is brought back to America (never mind how something larger than their ship was moved overseas, the film conveniently skips that bit) he's put on display, bringing to mind some larger issue we're all too drunk with excitement to care much about. We know there's only 20 minutes left of this movie and we've got to get from this...

... to this!

In the tragic end, "it was beauty killed the beast." But I'm not real clear on just what that had to do with anything. Don't blame the beast's natural attraction to Ann Darrow for its death. If anything, blame your airplanes for blowing it off the Empire State. Blame the crew of the boat for hoisting it magically onto a boat smaller than it was. You can even blame Ann herself for ... seducing him? But don't blame King Kong. He was framed, you guys. That ending sort of threw me. And of course, we're meant to side with him at the end because of that tender moment where he puts Ann down and knows this is his end.

A thrilling adventure, to be sure, and one whose remake I might need to revisit!

A smackdown is in order (#41-#50!) and then: the hills are alive.

1 comment:

  1. I believe each one of you is special and no matter what God loves you for who you are. I love this story very much and will continue to share this to anyone who needs it. Love and blessings.
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