Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Movies: King Kong

It's not that easy to write about cheesy old movies. I've put this off for over a week now. But that could just be me.

Believe it or not, I had never seen King Kong before. Film Forum screened it for the film's 75th anniversary, and before the movie started, the introducer took a headcount: who had never seen King Kong (that was basically just me, along with a bunch of kids whose hipster parents had brought them for educational purposes), who had seen it more than 10 times (a disturbing number of hands went up), who had seen it more than 100 times (yes, five or six people (which was five or six too many) raised their hands), and finally, who had seen it in it's first run (there were no hands raised for that). The introducer showed us the front page of Variety from the week that King Kong came out—1933 was a bad year for money, and some theaters were accepting barter for tickets. He then showed us an ancient (disturbingly racist) animated short featuring Huggy Bear, in which King Kong appears at the very end, cheering from the Empire State Building at Huggy's return. (This was a good preparation for King Kong, which turns out to be equally racist.)

In the case that you, like me, grew up in a box somewhere, and don't know anything about King Kong other than the fact that it involves a giant gorilla climbing up the Empire State building and snatching out a lithe blond in his meaty fist, I will summarize the plot for you: A filmmaker takes an unsuspecting young beauty to a secret island inhabited by heathens and giant monsters to make a movie, but the heathens kidnap the beauty and give her to King Kong as sacrificial bride. The ship's first mate, along with the filmmaker and his crew, rescue her and use her as bait to capture King Kong, bringing him back to New York where they expect to make millions selling tickets to people who want to see him, but King Kong breaks his chains and runs amok in Manhattan, climbing the Empire State building and reaching in the window for the beauty. The first mate, who has since become the beauty's fiance, rescues her yet again, and King Kong is killed. The End.

And so why is this silly thing so famous? First of all, it's visually spectacular. Sure, the giant monsters seem to be pasted a bit naively into their surrounding jungle, and lurch around with a strange, mechanical discomfort, but, um, they are GIANT MONSTERS! The natives are horribly offensive caricatures of "the racial other" (as is Kong. . . but I don't feel like going there) and the ship's Chinese cook will make you cringe (though be grateful that he smokes no opium; I've seen worse), but haven't you always wondered how King Kong, an herbivore with stubby fingers and broad, flat teeth, could kill a T-Rex, with giant claws and sharp, flesh-tearing canines? The answer, my friends, is that King Kong uses his incredible strength to pull T-Rex's jaw open and apart, until it breaks (this takes awhile). How cool is that?! Exactly. THAT is why this is such a great movie. Forget the girl and the Empire State Building (although it is a pretty awesome visual). The moral of the story—don't mess with giant gorillas—is a lasting one.

1 comment:

Brian34 said...

The part where Kong rode the T-Rex and crushed in its face and jaws use to give me a boner when I was a kid.