Fig. 1. King Kong poster
King Kong is ultimately a film about contrast. It takes a very naïve look at duality; the natives of Skull Island are backwards and degenerate compared to the ‘civilised’ white folk, the female lead, Anne, is helpless compared to her male counterparts, and Kong goes from being the god of a pre-industrial people to a curiosity for post-industrial Manhattan.
Fig. 2. Kong close-up
Perhaps the fall of Kong is a metaphor for industry’s destruction of nature; perhaps it is a euphemism for the widely held idea at the time of black people being a ‘lesser’ race. Looking back it is impossible not to cringe at the unashamed racism, but at the time this, and the now-blatant sexism, were commonplace – in fact, it is noted in reviews at the time that the female lead is surprising for not fainting – “It often seems as though Ann Redman, who goes through more terror than any of the other characters in the film, would faint, but she always appears to be able to scream” (Hall, 1933). In terms of narrative it is nothing special, but the film paced the way for modern special effects; “While King Kong is not hailed as a classic of narrative film, it was the one picture that made way, carved the path, for all modern day blockbusters.” (Breese, 2004).
Created at the peak of the Great Depression, King Kong’s primary purpose was escapism. People would come to the cinema to escape, however briefly, from their poverty and misery. The presence of fashionable, formally-dressed people at the unveiling of Kong to the western world are reminiscent of celebrity culture – showing people what they don’t have so they may live vicariously through those that do.
Fig. 3. Kong atop the Empire State Building.
While it could no doubt have benefited from the advice of a taxidermist or anatomist with experience of gorillas, the film revolutionized special effects. It pioneered the concept of foreground, mid-ground and background in cinema seemingly unintentionally – Kong is almost always on a different plane than the actors, due to the fact that he was animated and filmed separately and then projected onto a screen behind the actors. It is tempting to look at the film through contemporary eyes, but it “defies such limited expectations because it was so ahead of its time.” (Haflidason, 2001)
Cooper, M. & Schoedsack, E. Fig. 1. King Kong poster. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_bpdWsOrotV0/TPV4091Bj6I/AAAAAAAADuw/JRYsW5Xttag/s1600/king%2Bkong%2Bmovie%2Bposter%2B2.jpg (Accessed on 14/12/11)
Cooper, M. & Schoedsack, E. Fig. 2. Kong close-up. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_bpdWsOrotV0/TO0gGUA0yMI/AAAAAAAADsw/jwbBXzGZKI8/s400/king%2Bkong%2B4.jpg (Accessed on 14/12/11)
Cooper, M. & Schoedsack, E. Fig. 3. Kong atop the Empire State Building. http://www.filmreference.com/images/sjff_01_img0269.jpg (Accessed on 14/12/11)
Breese, K. (2004). Filmcritic.com http://www.filmcritic.com/reviews/1933/king-kong/ (Accessed on 14/12/11)
Haflidason, A. (2001). BBC Movies. http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2001/01/30/king_kong_1933_review.shtml (Accessed on 14/12/11)
Hall, M. (1933). The New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9F03E3DC173BEF3ABC4B53DFB5668388629EDE (Accessed on 14/12/11)