Monday, November 28, 2005

Day 59: King Kong

Years ago, I was in a book store and saw a children's book version of King Kong.  It was a simple retelling of the tale with illustrations and, aside from the fact that it told the same story, it never referenced the movie.  It just was, Kong as mythic a creature as the Big Bad Wolf or Rumplestiltskin, a fable about the hubris of man versus nature or the explosiveness of rage.  It was then that, though I was a stop motion nut, King Kong really began to excite me.  I realized that Kong is one of the first, if not the first, filmic myths, myths whose origins began when the lights went down in some movie theater somewhere (I'm hard pressed to come up with another one right now, though I think Freddy Krueger might be another example of a purely filmic myth).   So, while I loved the idea of Kong as much as Kane loved the idea of his past, every now and then I'd remember that I had never actually sat down and watched the whole thing from beginning to end.  As a kid, I'd watch bits and pieces of it when it came on TV, but I had a short attention span back then and had trouble accepting anything in black and white.  So this was, I believe, my first viewing of King Kong from beginning to end, though I'd probably seen the entire movie in chunks prior to this.

And, finally watching it, I realized why it was a myth that refused to die and why children still know through cultural osmosis about Kong atop the Empire State Building (how many know about Mighty Joe Young's fight with lions?).  King Kong is made of the same stuff as the Grimm Brothers' Tales.  It's got the logic of a fairy tale (particularly when he randomly climbs up the Empire State Building) and whatever the moral of the tale is, it's delightfully obscured by the sheer narrative of it all, slim though the narrative may be.

I don't have anything to say about it that hasn't been said to death, but while watching it, I was tickled to notice that every single time Jack Driscoll showed affection for Ann Darrow, something Kongish would happen.  He tells her that he loves her on the boat and then she's whisked away by the "primitive people", given over to a hulking monstrosity of pre-human (read: id-like) impulses.  He puts his arm around her in New York and the same giant bundle of animal instinct breaks free!  He comforts her in a hotel room (I mean, a hotel room, wink wink, nudge nudge) and Kong breaks through the window with a giant furry appendage and takes her away.  Is Kong simply a hyper-Freudian manifestation of Jack Driscoll's repressed sexuality?  Why not?

There are a bazillion reads on Kong (including the "miscegenation read," something I leave to better folk than I).  And I take that as evidence that it's the stuff of myth, the stuff of enduring folk tales.  Like Dracula, Frankenstein, or the Wolf Man, Kong is a manifestation of something primal, something dangerous, but also something loveable.  The difference between these other monsters, though, is that Kong is a direct result of industrialization.  He's a natural warning about how, as we build our buildings bigger or have the ability to take to the sky, there's a danger that grows in accordance with this "progress."  Strangely enough, the threat looks a lot like we do, represents our evolutionary past and, god dammit, when it dies, everybody gonna cry.  Of course we cry.  He's a symbol for everything we've lost or left behind in our development as a species and we have to slaughter him if we want to continue developing.