Archive for June 26th, 2006

Mildly Un-Kong-Vincing

The other night I watched King Kong on DVD, and here are some notes on the experience. Although I am very much a sucker for the sad spectacle of silverback gorillas in captivity, my expectations were pretty low, perhaps due in part to the appropriation of ‘Kong’ as a verb in marketing campaigns for Burger King products (the faintly obscene Kong My Whopper).

The effect of the film was quite similar to that of eating a Whopper: curiously gratifying during the event, but leaves you with a slight queasiness and emptiness afterwards, then you begin to ponder what exactly you have just been fed. The gratifying bits are meaty indeed – in an awesome series of scenes, Kong whups the shit out of ten different types of non-humanoid dinosaur, does an Ozzy Osbourne on a giant bat, destroys a theatre, and, of course, climbs the Empire State Building and swats off a few troublesome airplanes before succumbing to his fate. None of this would be of any interest, however, if he didn’t have his sensitive side. He brings his female friend ice-skating and loves nothing more than to sit down and enjoy the sunset.

There are few auteurs left in cinema, and I doubt Peter Jackson is one of them, despite his undeniable talents. The film had a ‘talking points for everyone’ feel about it. There was Kong as real, manly man (a counterpoint to his pseudo-rival, the foppish scriptwriter Adrien Brody); gay man (he likes platonic female company, vaudeville and ice-skating); Kong as ‘famed beast’ metaphor for any number of things: American security; the effects of imperial subjugation; the exploitative nature of the entertainment industry; the inhumanity of man versus the humanity of animals; and so on and so forth.

Although Kong finally breaks from his man-forg’d manacles, there were a couple of loose ends that didn’t get tied up in the final cut. One example is the young chap from Billy Elliot. Were he to appear as a dancing white native in the Kong stage show at the end, perhaps reprising that bit from Billy Elliot where he does some angry ballet to A Town Called Malice, there may have been some point to his character, but he disappears completely after Kong is captured and brought to New York. This is a shame, sort of. The young white savage of unrevealed origins was developing a keen sense of literary criticism (“Heart of Darkness isn’t an adventure story, is it?”), but this plotline was somewhat effaced by his desire to lift a machine gun at any opportunity. I suspect there may be an awkward scene on the cutting room floor where his avuncular guardian sits down with him and asks him to recap on what reading Conrad has taught him about gunning down giant woodlice.

It feels strange to criticize a film about a fifty-ton gorilla for lack of realism (indeed the gorilla’s animation is totally convincing), but I was particularly disturbed by the sunset/sunrise scenes. How on earth could a half-starved and traumatized woman sit down and enjoy the sunset alongside a (presumably) sexually frustrated giant ape? Are we supposed to imagine that such was the refinement of both that they could foreswear basic animal needs to enjoy the finer things in life? Later, as the final insult, in the sunrise scene atop the Empire State building, Kong the ascetic aesthete becomes Kong the dumb ape once more, as he magnanimously registers his approval to the structures of the civilization that has enslaved him, drugged him and shot at him and is now about to destroy him. Even though it uses depression-era New York as its starting point, this film is happy to deliver the plainly bogus message that the best things in life are free.


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