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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Friday, December 16, 2005

King Kong In Love

(NOTE: This post replaces the placeholder one from last night. This is not a review of the film, but it does contain important plot revelations, and my general thoughts. READ NO FURTHER if you haven't seen the film yet)

Peter Jackson is not a director of subtleties. Rather, he pedals in grand fantasy, and offers up mythology to his captive audience of 3 hours plus.

He is a throwback director, with a visual genius, Richard Wagner and Cecil B. DeMille in one.

I must be one of the very few people of my generation who has never seen a Lord of the Rings film or a Harry Potter film YET.

That would be true -- if I could discount the very first Lord of the Rings, which I did see, now 4 years ago. I loved it, but I know myself and my tastes, and that kind of film genre isn't for me.

I didn't return for what I was told were the superlative parts 2 and 3 of LOTR, but I took note of the high opinion of its fans around me.

So I knew what to expect from this visionary Kiwi director when I saw, last night, the remake of:

King Kong (2005)

When I mentioned in the placeholder post of last night, that I found the first hour abysmal, I wasn't, alas, joking.

But it deserves an explanation.

First, do not go see this version of King Kong directly after seeing the original.

This was my mistake, as Merian C. Cooper's film was fresh on my mind from the night before, and the inevitable compare/contrast that goes on in one's mind is very unfortunate.

There is no way, no matter how trained the actors, and how coached in historical archival footage, that this ensemble cast could even approximate the authenticity of the Great Depression, as a film like Cooper's could and did, because it was living through it.

The slang.
The bodily expressions.
The attitudes.
The class niceties.

All of these were missing entirely in this film, proving yet again that Hollywood can and does do period pieces, but they cannot take out the Twenty-First Century out of their cadre of actors.

(At least not as readily as, say, a Merchant-Ivory production can)

My eye as an historian is always engaged in period pieces, and when I see writer Jack Driscoll/Adrien Brody parade without a shirt in front of Ann Darrow, on board ship in a tight cabin, that drives me up a wall.

There were social rules which went unspoken in the period they are portraying, and one was that a man would NEVER greet a woman coatless, rarely in shirts-sleeves only, let alone completely shirtless. Even in that situation.

And because Hollywood studios had diction coaches long into the 1940s, most actors of the period mimicked the theatre accents of the time, which gave the usually broad, nasal American accents an almost British feel to them.

Listen to Fay Wray in the 1933 Kong.

Poor, would-be thief as she is, she still sounds as good as Ethel Barrymore.

This accent difference is how they were able to separate the classes from one another, without needing to show poverty and dreck all around them in Hoovervilles (which the people of that time didn't need or want to see recreated anyway).

Obviously, what we have lost in authenticity of manner, Jackson had to recreate visually so that our audiences today could see for themselves, what was happening in the world's richest city, circa 1930.

It is in this crucial opening hour, hour-and-a-half, that I almost walked out.

Most people reading this, won't.

They might even be fascinated with the reconstruction, especially, the carefully shown motivation and background info which the original King Kong didn't deliver.

And this time, we have a plethora of characters the original didn't show, with which to involve ourselves. Usually that would be good -- more exposition, more motivation, better films, right?

But no.

They are so annoying, and fake, and worst of all, trite, I could scream.

The worst of all is Jack Black, the darling comedic hero of almost every man I know.

(When he appeared on-screen, a little cheer went up in the back section of the theatre, from the teen boys up there)

He's like a smarmy, heterosexual version of Nathan Lane, and the only reason I can bear him is that he's a walking throwback himself, back to the times when Hollywood could take an unprepossessing actor, and make him a star -- rather like Lou Costello, of whom Black really reminds one physically.



But he is the worst possible selection for Carl Denham, that strong he-man type, who was indeed out for the money, but out for adventure just as much, if not more (like the real Merian C. Cooper, in fact).

Black plays Denham straight, in a movie which in 1933 was a satire of Hollywood.

Sure, you could watch the original King Kong as a plain adventure film, millions did, but both the producers and the audience of the time "got" that, like Singin' in the Rain, the film was firmly tongue-in-cheek about the craziness of Hollywood picture-making.

In fact, someone like Vince Vaughn would've been much more apposite for the role, had they wanted to stay with a comic who the male demographic love.

What he would've done is to automatically inject testosterone into what is nothing but a bag of greedy bones. All you have him do is to turn the wisecracking down two notches, and hey presto! there's your hero.

Men follow adventurous he-men, even to their deaths.

They don't follow buffoons with dollar signs for eyeballs -- not to the middle of nowhere, to meet the dread "Kong", they don't.

Which fortunately, almost thankfully, brings us to Naomi Watts, who plays the ingenue, which originally starred the luminous Fay Wray.

(Note that when Black/Denham is looking for a replacement for the actress who ditched him at the last minute, he goes through a list of actresses which he could get from Hollywood -- "What about Fay? Is she available?" "No, RKO would never release her", replies his assistant. I was the lone crazy nutter in the audience who laughed...)



This casting just made so much sense.

Ann Darrow is the anti-Kong if you will, that creamy smooth blonde woman which men love -- but which some critics have suggested betrays an unconscious racism of the times.

To which I have always thought, isn't that racist itself?

Because the unspoken message is that Kong is representative of some huge, primitive black man, in love with the ultra-white woman.

As many know, Canadian-born Fay Wray was cast after Clairol platinum-haired Jean Harlow turned down the role. Thus a natural brunette like Wray, was forced to wear blonde wigs throughout the film.

And it was a success.

A blithering, unbelievable success, which perhaps did tap into some hidden unsconscious desires in men around the world, which pre-Hays Code Hollywood dresses in tatters helped along.

Never mind that a blonde Wray photographed better in silver-nitrate black-and-whiteness, the fact that it's spot on in colour too, with Naomi Watts' natural locks much in evidence, shows you it was the right choice.

Maybe blondeness gives the actress an ethereal, virginal quality which the role demands -- though in rags, and half-torn off at that, there has to be a separation between desire, and conquest, for this film to work.

Otherwise, it's just too bestial.

Watts has a balletic grace, and pure good-looks, with those clear fine lines of Classic Hollywood faces, which translates well for that 1930's face.



Only one other woman could've been better cast, and she's now too old for the role: Nicole Kidman.

Watts' chemistry with Kong, "embodied" by Andy Serkis (who played Gollum in LOTR), is truly something. They have a symbiosis that Wray and the stop-action Kong could never have.

Firstly, everyone remembers Wray's piercing screams, since she was terrified out-of-her wits by being in the grasp of a 30 foot ape-beast.

Watts, after an initial surge of adrenalin which brings on those screams, actually calms down enough for her to do cartwheels and at one unbelievable point, juggles rocks so her new buddy Kong cheers up.

I didn't understand where that was going, until I realised it was a significant departure in tone from the original King Kong, pitting both woman and beast as victims of the twin dark forces of money and fame, culminating in this scene below.



For us to care about this, without the negative preachiness as baggage, there just had to be a bigger connect with the two main characters than the original version had.

The story of King Kong 2005 is not a love-story, but rather a story of love, with all that those four little letters imply.

Rapport. Trust. Understanding. Tenderness.

In many ways, this is the true wish-fulfillment of what men want from women, as much as the physical beauty that drives their senses.

Like Kong, sometimes they cannot express it but in mute actions, to protect, and to search for their love until the ends of the earth, if they lose her.



That was the tagline everyone remembers from the original Kong: "'Twas beauty that killed the beast."

What Peter Jackson does, after his trademark phantasmagory with the dinosaurs and the endless creatures which plague the marooned filming crew and sailors, is to make two films into one.

One, a very satisfying action-adventure movie. The other, a very satisfying story of love.

They don't intersect, so much as intertwine.

I have heard it say this Kong is an hommage to the first one.

Not so much an hommage, I think, as developing the theme of the times and translating it to the screen.

In 1933, they needed escapism from reality.

In 2005, we need reality from escapism.

The fare offered today is a relationship, a deeper exploration of why love works between two such different creatures, because, in the words of Montaigne, "love has it reasons, that reason doesn't know".



Go see King Kong 2005. And rent King Kong 1933 afterwards.

One is complimentary to the other, in reverse.

A kind of prequel, to the prequel, without so much as a George Lucas hiccup in sight.

PERTINENT FACTOIDS:

Price of admission (1933): 15 cents
Price of admission (2005): 7 ~ 13.00 US dollars
Average Wage for US Man (1933): 400 ~ 700 US dollars
Average Wage for US Man (2005): 20,000 ~ 22,000 US dollars
Unemployment Rate (1933): 24.9% -- the highest of the Great Depression
Unemployment Rate (2005): - 5% -- the lowest in 30 years
King Kong Box Office Gross (1933): $10,000,000 (Total)
King Kong Box Office Gross (2005): $9,755,745 (Midnight Opening Wednesday Only)

23 Comments:

  • You text message during movies!?

    Barbarian.

    By Blogger JSU, at Thu Dec 15, 10:44:00 pm GMT-5  

  • You text message during movies!?

    Don't tell the MPIAA!

    By Blogger Renato, at Fri Dec 16, 11:15:00 am GMT-5  

  • You text message during movies!?

    Barbarian.


    I have less hair though.

    P.S.: Did you see KK yet? When you do, post your thoughts please!

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Dec 16, 03:09:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Don't tell the MPIAA!

    Why, is that not allowed by them??

    Are we going to be checking our cell phones/mobiles at the door, like coats and hats?

    (Not that we do that anymore)

    There are some theatres in the West End where they make you do that, BTW.

    I wonder what the ACLU would have to say about that...

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Dec 16, 03:13:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Warning, spoiler-ish comment; after a spoiler-ish review:


    If a frenchman directed this film, Ann would have jumped after watching Kong fall, and then Jack would have jumped after watching Ann fall, and then Carl would have sighed over the pile of bodies and after his beauty killed the beast line we would have heard a closing interior monologue from his perspective about his unrequited lust for Jack.

    (and there was the whoop, whoop for Jack Black in the audience at my showing, too)

    And before preview screenings I've been required to check electronic devices at the door (I guess civil liberty issues aren't in force when you are an invited guest rather than a paying customer)

    By Blogger XWL, at Fri Dec 16, 03:44:00 pm GMT-5  

  • "Did you see KK yet? When you do, post your thoughts please!"

    I probably won't. The original never had much resonance for me. (Not being, you know, either hairy brute nor lovely blond nor megalomaniac filmmaker.)

    Plus, as much as I liked his earlier stuff, I thought Jackson's take on LOTR was pretty heavyhanded -- almost pornographic. And while hobbit porn might be sort of an amusing novelty, I don't really need to watch loving close-ups of a giant (but, from reports, not anatomically correct...) ape.

    "Only one other woman could've been better cast, and she's now too old for the role: Nicole Kidman."

    You mean Kong is a metaphor for Tom Cruise?

    By Blogger JSU, at Fri Dec 16, 04:00:00 pm GMT-5  

  • The first KK made me sad because I had not experienced love of emotion and I would like to think it helped me but it did not; just a yearning to feel that. There was something beyond the physical perhaps but it was much harder to find. And here was this beautiful woman feeling it for a great ape. Great, indeed, what an understatement.
    Before you think I'm trying to sound intellectual, I would tell you I liked "Mighty Joe Young" too! So, I doubt that I could.
    Neither have I seen any LOTR or Potter movies, I don't know why, I've heard they're good.
    You saw a lot more in the first hour than I have heard, I was told nothing happens within that time, boring they said. I don't like that.
    As far as leading ladies, I liked Jessica Lange before I found out she was a left-winger. It was a physical thing, seeing no reason not to feel that when I saw her in The Postman Always Rings Twice afterward. She could have charmed a lizard.
    I'd rather read your reviews than see the movie.

    By Blogger Paul, at Fri Dec 16, 04:24:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Oh, geez. This link is too good^H^H^H^Hhorrible not to put into a King Kong thread:

    monkey sex -- aphrodisiac

    By Blogger JSU, at Fri Dec 16, 05:15:00 pm GMT-5  

  • If a frenchman directed this film, Ann would have jumped after watching Kong fall, and then Jack would have jumped after watching Ann fall, and then Carl would have sighed over the pile of bodies and after his beauty killed the beast line we would have heard a closing interior monologue from his perspective about his unrequited lust for Jack.

    /me irony detection off

    Doesn't sound like Eric Röhmer to me

    /me irony detection on

    (and there was the whoop, whoop for Jack Black in the audience at my showing, too)

    See? Men are freaks.

    And before preview screenings I've been required to check electronic devices at the door (I guess civil liberty issues aren't in force when you are an invited guest rather than a paying customer)

    I only have at the theatre theatre.

    My mother embarrasses me because, due to the fact that she doesn't know/doesn't want to learn how, she always leaves her cellphone ringer on at the flicks...

    *cringe*

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Dec 16, 05:58:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I probably won't. The original never had much resonance for me. (Not being, you know, either hairy brute nor lovely blond nor megalomaniac filmmaker.)

    Did you watch Titanic, by chance?

    Plus, as much as I liked his earlier stuff, I thought Jackson's take on LOTR was pretty heavyhanded -- almost pornographic.

    Really?? Not in the one I saw, part 1.

    And while hobbit porn might be sort of an amusing novelty, I don't really need to watch loving close-ups of a giant (but, from reports, not anatomically correct...) ape.

    Hobbit porn, so wrong...

    You mean Kong is a metaphor for Tom Cruise?

    Nah. Kong is all-man.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Dec 16, 06:00:00 pm GMT-5  

  • The first KK made me sad because I had not experienced love of emotion and I would like to think it helped me but it did not; just a yearning to feel that. There was something beyond the physical perhaps but it was much harder to find. And here was this beautiful woman feeling it for a great ape. Great, indeed, what an understatement.

    That's the whole point though. That love, whether agape or eros, knows no boundaries.

    The first Kong was much better than the first in this case, because Wray didn't reciprocate Kong's affection for her.

    It felt more genuine.

    Before you think I'm trying to sound intellectual, I would tell you I liked "Mighty Joe Young" too!

    I wasn't a big Brad Pitt fan until I saw Mr. & Mrs. Smith (I'm still look-warm on him, but defrosting), so I didn't see that or the original 1940's version.

    I heard the Pitt version was fairly good though.

    So, I doubt that I could.
    Neither have I seen any LOTR or Potter movies, I don't know why, I've heard they're good.


    Same here.

    You saw a lot more in the first hour than I have heard, I was told nothing happens within that time, boring they said. I don't like that.

    I sms'ed Renato that -- boring.

    I fancy though, for different reasons than what other people did.

    Some people go to an actio-adventure film expecting to be rocked from scene one.

    I live slow build-ups too, so I didn't mind the slowness of it.

    But it just had no oomph.

    It was only when the deenos got into the picture, that the movie started heating up.

    To take what I alluded to in opera, could Wagner have done Puccini?

    I doubt it.

    Jackson can't do Allen, either.

    As far as leading ladies, I liked Jessica Lange before I found out she was a left-winger.

    That and the fact that she looks like my cousin Erika, always puts me off of her...

    It was a physical thing, seeing no reason not to feel that when I saw her in The Postman Always Rings Twice afterward. She could have charmed a lizard.

    Excellent! I might watch that now.

    I'd rather read your reviews than see the movie.

    Aww. Thanks Paul. :)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Dec 16, 06:10:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Oh, geez. This link is too good^H^H^H^Hhorrible not to put into a King Kong thread:

    monkey sex -- aphrodisiac


    Why do I find the fact that women get aroused by lesbo-sex more disturbing than that the monkey sex one?

    We'll just have to do a lesbo-monkey sex one to hit the Orgasmatron in us gals, I guess...

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Fri Dec 16, 06:12:00 pm GMT-5  

  • That and the fact that she looks like my cousin Erika, always puts me off of her...

    Well, if you're busy, *wink* what's her number? Kidding, if she puts you off, there must be a flaw of significance. I'll wait for you.

    By Blogger Paul, at Fri Dec 16, 06:34:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Men follow adventurous he-men, even to their deaths.

    They don't follow buffoons with dollar signs for eyeballs -- not to the middle of nowhere, to meet the dread "Kong", they don't.


    For quite some time Hollywood has been making fun of the "he-man adventurer," while, quite uncritically, blandly accepting greed as an ultimate motivation.

    I find it interesting that we seem to be unable to truly understand (much less relate to) non-monetary motivations.... Whereas, 1n 1933, when money is much needed, they do...

    They better not try and remake other RKO films like Top Hat or Citizen Kane! I fear if this succeeds that's what those morons will do!

    By Blogger Ron, at Fri Dec 16, 08:16:00 pm GMT-5  

  • You heard Rohmer, but I was thinking early Truffaut (the pitch meeting; I want to remake King Kong, but I want it to be more like 'Jules et Jim' but with a 25 foot ape as Jules)


    And to defend Jack Black's Carl Denham, he was way too Daffy Duck with dollar signs in his eyes through much of the film, but when he goes ape fighting off the insects you get an inkling of a man who was capable in situations like that.

    And given your take on the whole straight women watching lesbian thing, I guess you won't be watching too much of Howard Stern's Sirius shows on OnDemand.

    By Blogger XWL, at Sat Dec 17, 12:14:00 am GMT-5  

  • WOW! That was a thorough and very erudite review.I think I would enjoy seeing a movie with one day.

    However: Your post review went a bit sour..."Factoid" is defined as a claim which although many believe it to be true is actually false or erroneous [QV: The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker]

    Also the current US unemployment rate is actually FIVE percent, not 0.5% This is a glaring error [off by a factor of ten], most likely an error due listening to the current President's account of the economy. He makes such math errors regularly.

    Taking The Piss,
    vergelimbo

    By Blogger vergelimbo, at Sat Dec 17, 02:12:00 am GMT-5  

  • (In reference to Black) "the only reason I can bare him "

    I know you CAN, but must you? I couldn't bear it!

    Great review! And only available here and nowhere else! Thank you!

    By Anonymous Darrell, at Sat Dec 17, 04:40:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Well, if you're busy, *wink* what's her number? Kidding, if she puts you off, there must be a flaw of significance.

    Amongst other much worst things, she's a champagne Socialist...

    I'll wait for you.

    At the train station!

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Dec 17, 10:10:00 pm GMT-5  

  • For quite some time Hollywood has been making fun of the "he-man adventurer," while, quite uncritically, blandly accepting greed as an ultimate motivation.

    I find it interesting that we seem to be unable to truly understand (much less relate to) non-monetary motivations.... Whereas, 1n 1933, when money is much needed, they do...

    They better not try and remake other RKO films like Top Hat or Citizen Kane! I fear if this succeeds that's what those morons will do!


    WOWIE.

    That is the most astute return commentary I have received on this blog.

    I completely agree, but it hadn't occured to me until you said so.

    Nice one, Ron. You really turn it up a notch when you speak about films I see. :)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Dec 17, 10:12:00 pm GMT-5  

  • WOW! That was a thorough and very erudite review.I think I would enjoy seeing a movie with one day.

    I'm usually quite quiet during films, and ruminate all this inside afterwards.

    We'd probably end up chatting about the weather. ;)

    However: Your post review went a bit sour..."Factoid" is defined as a claim which although many believe it to be true is actually false or erroneous [QV: The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker]

    Ah right.

    Still, I'll leave it, since it was offered in the spirit of "interesting trivia".

    Also the current US unemployment rate is actually FIVE percent, not 0.5% This is a glaring error [off by a factor of ten], most likely an error due listening to the current President's account of the economy. He makes such math errors regularly.

    Taking The Piss,


    Hehe.

    Actually, no thank you.

    I really did appreciate the correction, which I have now changed in the blogpost as well.

    (Y gracias por lo mismo, Jose!)

    Come back anytime.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Dec 17, 10:15:00 pm GMT-5  

  • I know you CAN, but must you? I couldn't bear it!

    Sorry for the Girls Gone Wild moment, Darrell. ;)

    I've change that too!

    Great review! And only available here and nowhere else! Thank you!

    Thank you, sweetie. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    If I could give everyone a piece of advice with blockbusters:

    NEVER go to see a new release at an unfashionable time.

    I did, and I think I would've enjoyed it much more with a packed house at night.

    It wasn't BAD, but it could've been better.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Dec 17, 10:18:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Nice one, Ron. You really turn it up a notch when you speak about films I see. :)

    Thank you Victoria! I've been having a miserable last few days, and that's the nicest thing anyone has said to me lately!

    I admit, I don't just watch movies, I'm in love with them, even the bad ones! I can only speak of them as you would someone you love, which may not always be nice, but true! So my mind and heart have little 2 hour long affairs...but when you find the ones you really love? Ah, that's the best... I could never be "critical" enough to be a good film student...but that doesn't mean I remove my brain, it's just one of a range of organs I perceive with...

    By Blogger Ron, at Sun Dec 18, 02:25:00 am GMT-5  

  • Well, if you're busy, *wink* what's her number? Kidding, if she puts you off, there must be a flaw of significance.

    Amongst other much worst things, she's a champagne Socialist...

    I'll wait for you.

    At the train station!


    I'll be the one looking like a tourist; I'll wear my Steeler shirt or Penn State, depends.

    Seriously, I love trains, I'd come no other way. Let me know what time would be proper!

    By Blogger Paul, at Sun Dec 18, 04:14:00 pm GMT-5  

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