It's not a comfortable admission, but one I have to make right off the bat: I didn't get to view the original "King Kong" in its entirety until I was 18 years old. Your pity is gratefully accepted.
It was a consistent point of frustration in my young life as far back as I can remember. I was intrigued by the story, obsessed with the imagery, studied the rare clips that popped up on TV, and clipped any stills I could find in magazines. I read and re-read Turner and Goldner's "The Making of King Kong," trying to construct the film in my mind. These were the days before videotape, and my small Midwestern hometown carried two viewable TV channels, neither of which broadcasted RKO's "King Kong." Ever. (I later learned that Paramount forced a moratorium on showings of the original "Kong" in the years surrounding the DeLaurentiis remake, thereby robbing an entire generation.)
Nevertheless, I was hooked. You don't even need to actually see the film to come under its spell. "King Kong" is folklore.
I've always felt that Kong appeals to our inner child. Most of us "met" him, as it were, when we were impressionable tykes. A more fortunate generation of Americans can cite the "Million Dollar Movie" - - when WOR-TV in New York broadcast "King Kong" repeatedly over the course of a week - - as their personal epiphany. (Remarkably, the 1956 broadcast of "King Kong" was viewed at least once during its run by 80% of all television-owning families, the largest audience ever recorded in New York up to that time.)
What child can't identify with the feeling of being small in a huge environment, ala Denham and company on Skull Island? And it's easy for a tyke to have empathy for poor Kong once the unfortunate ape is loose in New York, punished for being clumsy and breaking things. "'Twas poor behavior that killed the beast...".
The film's "other-worldlyness" also adds to its mythic appeal. The Skull Island jungle is lush and primordial, literally a painting come-to-life and every bit as astounding as any still or production art you may have been exposed to before seeing the actual film. Willis O'Brien's stop motion animation makes the movements of Kong and the other prehistoric creatures take on a dreamlike quality. Once you know how it works, you find yourself imagining the additional dimension that exists "between seconds" onscreen; OBie repositioning the great ape ever so slightly and disappearing from the frame, thousands of times, again and again, hour after hour, resulting in a minute and a half of movie life. Remember advancing your first "Kong" videotape a frame at a time to catch "animator evidence"? (I'll contribute a favorite: watch Kong as he wanders near the entrance to his Skull Mountain lair and you'll see a metal position gauge standing next to him.)
The storyline sprints straight ahead and doesn't belabor issues of logic or plausibility. Where did Kong come from? What does he do with all of those sacrificed virgins? What's the deal with the giant doors on a wall built to keep giant things out? What exactly did Denham have planned for the rest of the show on Kong's opening night? (Was the giant ape going to merely stand there for pictures?)
"King Kong" producer Merian C. Cooper, I'm certain, would never entertain such nonsense; you can imagine his pipe clenched between his teeth as he snarls in reply: "It's an adventure film! Excitement! Thrills! Now, enjoy your popcorn."
So unreal, and yet so authentic. Go back to the scene on the Skull Mountain cliff as Ann Darrow is being carried off by a winged horror; in the distance you see the Wall, the native village, and the Venture anchored just offshore. Stunning.
Why fight it: I'm a King Kong geek. Fortunately, thanks to the folks at kongisking.net, I'm among friends. During the weeks and months leading up to Peter Jackson's film - - which I await breathlessly, much as my 10-year-old self awaited DeLaurentiis's version in '76 (a state of disillusionment which will be explored in a future, sadder column) - - I'll use this space to share Kong history, trivia, opinions, anecdotes, etc., and hopefully expose the faithful to some great Eighth Wonder resources you haven't yet seen. This is an interactive column, so please feel free to argue, disagree, amend, expand or otherwise contribute via the "Kong Files" discussion section. There's lots 'o lore yet uncovered out there - - let's tap the Collective Braintrust. "We're millionaires, boys - - I'll share it with all of you!"
Until next time, beware of bewildering flash photography, and long live the King.
(Writer John Michlig's online article KING KONG: LOST AND FOUND can be seen at http://www.skullisland.net/KongBoomer.html. He's currently working with filmmaker James Mansfield on a documentary entitled EIGHTH WONDER: THE AMAZING TRUE STORY OF CARL DENHAM AND THE BEAST-GOD OF SKULL ISLAND, the startling details of which he promises to share in the very near future.)
THE KONG FILES and contents are © 2004-2006 John Michlig and written for KongisKing.net, subsidary of The One Ring®, Inc.