Saturday, October 3, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "KING KONG"

KING KONG (1933)

Producer: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack 
Screenplay: James Creelman and Ruth Rose from an idea conceived by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace



There’s an important concept when analyzing all forms of literature and art that I always try to follow, which is where we separated the difference between what one likes, and from what is good. I've brought this up before sporadically on this blog and elsewhere, often to receive ridicule and disdain for people who think that that little click that goes off in the pleasure zone of the mind is the only standard that's important when determining quality, but that's another rant.... There's a second related concept that the idea that you must also make the distinctions between what you like and what's good, but also, what's important. It's one thing to be a fan of art of all kinds, and to see the newest most freshest things out there, but still, if you're really gonna appreciate and sometimes even just understand an art, you need to also be somewhat of a historian, or at least, have an awareness of the seminal works within each art forms even if you haven't viewed them yourself. (I'd try not to name drop historical names and films unless you've truly experienced them yourself, 'cause then you're basically just a douche, but having that awareness is critical.) You might not have read "Beowulf", but if you're gonna study literature you should at least know about it. (It's probably not to read it anyway; Woody Allen's right don't take classes that teach "Beowulf", or course, the only way to know that you don't need to read it, is to actually read it, but-, ugh. Nevermind, whatever-. Read "Gilgamesh", it's the same thing but better.)

This being explained, this cannon of film is a list of absolutely necessary films, and not just what I may consider a great film, although there’s a lot of those in there too. On that basis, I bring you “King Kong,” the original 1933 version, and what can easily be considered the beginning of the modern Hollywood action/adventure/disaster special effects extravaganza film. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I actually don’t like the film. Alright that's not completely true, I do like it especially in the context of when it came out, but yeah, if it wasn't so important and influential, this would be a tough one to define as "Great". Call me crazy, but I’ve just never been able to completely buy into a theory that a 50 foot ape can fall in love with a human female woman, Ann Darrow. (Fay Wray, in her now-infamous role). I just don’t find it believable as a story, but I could argue that for almost any film. I mean if Lida can be raped by a swan it’s certainly possible... One of the goals of film, like most artistic mediums, is to be able to show us things that aren’t likely to happen in real life. The movie's not about the love story between the gorilla  and the blonde, even though that is, oddly enough, the most important symbolic archetype image of love ever produced that originated in film, (Although I guess if you want to stretch, the "Beauty and the Beast" archetype dates back further, but eh, that's stretching it. We all know the image of Kong desire for Fay Wray leading to his demise on top of the Empire State Building, and I'm guessing only about half of you even knew what I was referencing when I brought up Lida earlier this blog.) it's about those moments of terror, thrill and amazement, those moments in “King Kong,” where we do start to put thought aside and enjoy it for the spectacle that it is. It is a spectacle that kind that a single-minded film director like Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) would put on and go to the greatest extremes to make, without any real genuine concern for the well-beings of everyone else, unless of course it gets in the way of his absent-minded vision. (Denham is probably loosely based on Merian C. Cooper, one of the film's directors who even before "King Kong" was known for taking film to the farthest corners of the world in some of the earliest documentary films, as well as him and Schoedsack's other famous thriller, the previous years "The Most Dangerous Game".) The humans are the real monsters in the movie, which is why it’s believable that he’d take a 25 foot ape and put him on stage in front of an entire audience on Broadway, and not expect the only possible inevitable thing that could happen, happens.

Yeah the film is ridiculous, but that's apart of it's charm. That said though, there is a lot more slow buildup in the film than most people seem to want to remember. We don’t even see Kong for the first 1/3-1/2 of the half of the film, and the scenes where he’s ravaging the streets of New York and climbing the Empire State Building and fighting off the airplanes, that counts for only about last 20 minutes of the film. And, I’ll be honest, before Kong shows up, the film is boring. Then we get to Skull Island, and we see what now are pretty cheesy special effects, then it starts to evolve into the kind of fun, riotous, and kind of sad movie it really is. The part where Kong out wrestles a dinosaur to protect Ann is still is a favorite of mine. The revolutionary special effects were done by Willis O’Brien, using every now clich√© trick in the book, created a clunky, rabbit-haired giant ape, and made it believable, at least back then. It’s more obviously aged but, that’s not a bad thing by any means. CGI's become so good that it's unimpressive, but because the effects of the original are so of their time, they remain for all-time; they’re really great examples of the joy of making movies, and that’s why the original is still the best. (Note: I have seen Peter Jackson’s remake, and he not-to-my-surprise made a movie much more unbearable than the original. And why in God would you make the film longer!)

The story is really, mythology, that’s the only category that it’ll fit in, the story is full of loopholes, (If the villagers built a wall to keep the animals out, than why put a door in it?) and the acting is less than desirable, sometimes downright bad overacting, (Although consider how hard it would be to act with a 600-pound gorilla that isn’t there.)  but that’s not why to avoid the film, that’s why you watch the film. Pure, unadulterated, movie magic, seeing the things that would otherwise not be able to be seen and the pure id enjoyment that we get out of it. Other movies ask us to think, consider, question,... "King Kong" asks us just to grab the popcorn and enjoy.
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