Stop-motion mayhem for the ages: Kong hands out a hardcore ass-kicking to a dinosaur that was stupid enough to mess with his bride. Then again, the big lizard did have brain the size of a walnut...
I just spent this Sunday afternoon in the company of three good friends, enjoying a rare screening of the original KING KONG (my all-time favorite movie) and I'm once again reminded of why it holds the place it has in my heart and sense of wonder. My mom took me to see it for the first time when it played in restored form onscreen when I was a wide-eyed lad of eight years old, and it has marked its territory in my imagination ever since.
Released seventy-seven years ago, KING KONG has since become the template for how to make a compelling and grandly entertaining monster movie, and now holds an indelible place in both Americana and world cinematic consciousness. It's mythic, features great suspense, romance and characters that are never forgotten once encountered, and as far as I'm concerned it's a perfect movie. Seriously, I cannot find one thing about it that I can complain about. While some may cite its many dated aspects, I ignore that criticism and allow myself what I imagine the mind set of the 1933 moviegoer whenever I watch it, and every time it kicks my ass in a good way. Considering how much of a ferocious wallop the film continues to pack, even by today's standards, I'm at a loss as to what first-run audiences must have thought of such sights as Kong's brutal to-the-death battle with that T-Rex where he defeats his saurian foe by savagely, agonizingly breaking its jaw, complete with a sickening and slow celery-like crunch, or the sequence where and irate Kong enters the native village in pursuit of his blonde "bride," destroying all man-made structures that stand in his way and chewing on screaming natives or grinding them beneath his gigantic foot like he were grinding out a cigarette butt. Then there's the sequence where those poor sailors first meet doom as an aquatic dinosaur eats several of them, only to have the few who survived that horror attempt to flee Kong on a log bridge that they get shaken off of, whereupon they plummet screaming to their crushing deaths. Those scenes and others give us a mythic fantasy landscape beyond the realm of mortal man, a place one must travel a loooooong way to get to, and once there one has to pass through a thick veil of fog, kind of a barrier separating the world of mere man from this place where time has stood still for untold centuries and beats that perished millions of years ago still thrive and prey upon one another.
Then there's Kong himself, described as a native superstition, a spirit or some kind of god. The culture that exists on the island built the gigantic wall that separates them from the monsters on Kong's side of it, and we're told the wall was built so long ago that the inhabitants have slipped back into primitivism from the higher society that achieved such an engineering marvel, so Kong has been there since time immemorial. For all we know, Kong may indeed have been some kind of spirit or god that's beyond the reach of death, so long as he exists within his own space in his dreamlike world of shadows, humid vegetation, and the sound of ancient drum beats. Once modern civilization pierces his plane, it's all over and his pagan might falls before the greed of man and his inability to be a part of the rational and mundane world outside. Gone are his organic stomping grounds of swamp, jungle and stone as he is vanquished by science (in the form of gas bombs), enslaved and shamefully put on display for the amusement of effete New Yorkers, and his rampage within the urban jungle wrought by man is a tragic and inevitably impotent rage against forces that he cannot hope to overcome. We weep at the death of this noble and innocent savage, the uncontested lord of his realm, as he is blasted off the top of a precipice of steel and cement, only to plummet headlong to the pavement of Herald Square, and though we enjoy the movie viewing after viewing, Kong's sorry fate never loses an ounce of its bitter sense of a great wrong having been done. And all he wanted to love and protect Ann Darrow (the immortal Fay Wray), his sacrificial bride. What audience can't feel for that?
It's powerful stuff and its resonance will go on unchecked, at least until the sad day when audiences finally lose the capacity to feel, a day that I fear is growing nearer with each passing year.
The friends who accompanied me to today's showing at BAM greatly enjoyed seeing it onscreen with an audience that was totally and clearly into it. My friends Ginna and Mary-Beth are of an age with myself, and we had all seen the film on local televised movie showcases during our childhoods, Mary-Beth with CREATURE DOUBLE-FEATURE in the Boston area, while Ginna and I saw it every Thanksgiving on Channel 9's late, lamented yearly airing of KONG, SON OF KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG. My other friend who came along for the show, Chi, is a fellow giant monster nut and, to my utter shock and delight, had never seen KING KONG, and upon seeing the original he now understands why I hate everything about Peter Jackson's ambitious remake except for the CGI effects. Upon exiting the theater, Chi raved about how compelling the story was and how surprised he was to see what the filmmakers accomplished so long ago. When we purchased our tickets I told him that while he may have heard the term "movie magic" bandied about in regard to certain classic movies, KING KONG is the film that most perfectly personifies the concept for me, and now he would experience that rare kind of movie magic spell for himself. It made me feel good very deep down to see KING KONG affect a newcomer to its charms in the way that it hit Chi. Yeah, all is good in the world at the moment, and KONG was just the panacea that I needed right about now.
Bless you, KING KONG, and all that you stand for.