And that's what it was. In all of motion picture history, there are few films that move at such a pace as Kong. Once the action starts, it never stops. From the moment we meet Kong, about forty minutes into the film, to the finale on the streets of New York, it is almost non-stop excitement and adventure.
I won't waste time with the plot. If you don't know the story, then go watch the movie. Instead, the reason I love it is because it captures a moment in time like few other movies before or since. Much has been written about it's meanings, messages, and Merian Cooper's own ideas about what it stood for. But in the end, it captures the twilight of the pre-techno age, when parts of the world were still mysterious, America was emerging as a super power, and technology and industry were changing the world forever.
The lost island, the fallen civilization, the ancient wall. The jungles and prehistoric creatures, not the least of
When I would sit in front of our old manual dial television set and watch this, I was almost shaking by the time the first break in the action happened, shortly after Kong's fight with the T-Rex/Allosaurus. It was at times disturbing. Though not because of a "message". There was no overt moral sermonizing, other than the obvious story: Carl Denham just doesn't know when to quit. Even then, Denham is not 'the bad guy'. Not like he would be today. Nor were
When the sailors rush into the jungle, it's to save Ann from the clutches of Kong. They meet terrible, horrifying deaths. Not because they deserve it. But because that's what happens. The dinosaurs aren't 'evil.' They're there, in their world. And the sailors have run into these primal forces of nature they're ill-prepared to deal with. But they don't have to die because. They aren't killed because. They're killed because they run afoul of creatures too horrible for them to handle. There is no scene where they spout off some diatribe about how inferior the natives were, or
Kong is also sympathetic. Sure, the goal is rescue the girl and eventually kill Kong. But it isn't as if there is a moral force in his actions. He's just doing his thing. When he shakes the sailors off the log, it's because he's defending what's his. He beats dinosaurs and airplanes for what's his. He's doing all he knows to do, and the film never says otherwise. People in New York who die aren't evil, or spouting bigotry or anti-progressive ideals. They are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when Kong is dead at the end (sorry for no spoiler alert, but if you didn't know that by now, you didn't
Ah, that was movie making. Today, of course, in the age of Political Control, all things have to advance the Cause. The sailors must shoot first. The natives must be some bizarre androgynous race deserving no more sympathies than marching zombies. Kong and Ann must psychologically connect, and we must be shown that it's evil men and their wicked machines who are the bad ones. And whoever is Denham or the Denham character must be stripped of sympathy and shown to be the force of evil that he is for toying with nature and the march of progress.
In 1933's Kong, the characters may not be deep - but it was 1933. Watch those movies then and see how quick they were. Movies were new, and they didn't feel the need to bring out Freud's couch and analyze every action and idea for hours on end. Ann was a girl duped into following Denham's crazy ideas. The skipper an old, crusty sea veteran. The sailors, described at the beginning as rough and threatening, were sailors. Yes, some old racial stereotypes like the Asian cook or the dastardly island natives. or at least natives doing what an American ideal of what natives did in 1933. But have you ever watched non-Western movies that depict things in America and Europe? Watch 1963's Salladin the Victorious, and you'll stop forever beating up on American and European cinema for being uniquely racist. The natives in Kong come off as angelic compared to how the Europeans are portrayed in much of that film (if not all of it, in parts - but then, the Natives in Kong aren't always bad either).
If Kong was racist, then it shows that bigotry is a part of the ages then and now. In 2001, a made for TV movie version of The Lost World was released. Injected into the story, and not part of Arthur Conan Doyle's book upon which the movie was based, was the character of Reverend Theo Karr. Played by the late, great Peter Falk, he is the religious fundamentalist determined to keep proof against his laughably outdated biblical views a secret. How? He strands the heroes on the plateau, sentencing them to almost certain death. Why? Well because, he's a Christian fundamentalist! It's what they do! They're all killers, all of them, killing and murdering to defend their bigotry and idiocy! So if you think unfair portrayals of people are limited to 1933, you're not paying attention to 2013.
And maybe that's part of the problem when we think of violence and movies. Not that Kong was a racist movie and we're so enlightened because we know the right people to hate. Not that the special effects aren't up to our awesome standards. FWIW, I can't even believe that people say that today. Some day I'm going to write a post on how the Internet seems to have telescoped our perspectives rather than broaden them. I watched this movie all the way through the eighties. My friends watched it on VHS when it came out. Star Wars had come and gone. Huge leaps in special effects had occurred. And guess what? We never felt we needed to justify Kong's effects. It was 19 freaking 33. In terms of proportionality, those effects make Avatar appear made by Crayola by comparison. And we understood that in the 80s when we considered this one of the best special effects movies of all time, post-Star Wars and all. And for my money, the battle between Kong and the Rex would not shame most undertakings today.
So the problem I have with Kong? I can't watch it because it was intense, it was true to itself, and it was what it was. There was no sermonizing. There was no preaching. No PC. No anything. You were just taken on a whirlwind adventure, not to judge, condemn, or cast aspersions on this or that person or creature. Like Larry Talbot, the Frankenstein monster, or even Senator Joe Paine, you almost sympathize both with Kong and with Carl Denham, with the natives of the island and the natives of New York.
In its odd way, it's more equal and inclusive than movies today, that see everything in black and white, red and blue, right and left, pro-this and anti-that. When death comes Kong, no cheering is intended. No celebrations. No feeling that those sunsabitches had it coming. You feel as horrified as you should in any good horror movie then and now. And to be honest, more so than in many movies today that use death as the ultimately deserved punishment for those who have fallen from the modern faith. Shallow though they may have been in 1933, they weren't caricatures. And maybe that's what makes it so tough to watch even after all these years. Why when Carl Denham utters that most famous of movie lines in 1933, you feel a touch of pity for all the victims, for Denham, and for Kong. But when Jack Black butchers it 72 years later, you don't care, Kong was the victim, and everyone else got what they had coming.