All posts by Andrew Wickliffe

A Shock to the System (1990, Jan Egleson)

A Shock to the System is almost a success. It’s real close. It has all the right pieces, it just doesn’t have enough time at the end to put them away in their new arrangement. Everything’s in disarray because the film changes into a thriller—with a different protagonist—for a while in the third act. After spending the entire movie with Michael Caine, who even narrates, the film temporarily changes perspective to his love interest, Elizabeth McGovern. It’s only for a few minutes—System runs just under ninety so everything’s just for a few minutes—but it jostles the film enough it can’t pull off a perfunctory finish. And it needs a perfunctory finish because budget. System’s got shoot in New York City with good actors but not blow up expensive things budget.

Caine is a Wall Street yuppie who commutes from Connecticut. The movie starts with him about to get a big promotion; boss John McMartin is expecting to lose his job in an imminent merger. Caine’s excited because he feels like he’s unappreciated, even though everyone who works for him thinks he’s a swell guy (including McGovern, who’s got a crush on him). Caine’s wife Swoosie Kurtz is excited because now they’ll finally have enough money for all the things she wants to buy. An implied but completely unexplored subplot is Caine marrying Kurtz for money. Even though there are hints at Caine wishing they were more affection, they never have any chemistry to suggest he married her for her money and she married him because he was going places.

So, of course Caine doesn’t get the job. Worse, one of his kiss-ass underlings (Peter Riegert) gets promoted over him. Caine leaves work early to simmer and gets into an altercation with a homeless guy on the subway platform. The homeless guy dies. And nothing bad happens to Caine.

Although the film opens with Caine getting a literal Shock, that household incident isn’t the inciting incident for anything. It’s a framing detail; the film itself is about Caine realizing he’s a sociopath and figuring out how to use it to his advantage.

The film makes a lot of hash, in the first act, out of Caine being too nice of a boss. He’s not enough of a yuppie scumbag. He doesn’t fire people. He also doesn’t… have any great ideas about his job. It’s just his turn. The only reason he gets any sympathy for not getting the promotion is because Kurtz is mean and Riegert is a weiner. One of the weirder reasons Riegert is a weiner is because he’s dating a model (Haviland Morris) who he likes dating. After the promotion, Caine and Kurtz have to go out to Riegert’s lake house and, ew, they seem to like one another. It’s a strange shortcut for the film to take.

But it’s fine because Caine’s able to carry it. See, he’s empowered now and he’s not going to put up with Riegert’s shit. There’s only so much Caine is going to take from Riegert, Kurtz, or anyone else. McGovern is one of the only bright lights in Caine’s life, even if he’s too busy being miserable with Kurtz to notice McGovern giving him the look.

Once gets around to acting on his newly found murderous instinct, he finds himself almost immediately on cop Will Patton’s radar. Caine’s not good at pretending he cares. It makes sense to the audience because Caine’s narration has made him to… the film’s version of sympathetic. More sympathetic than anyone else. Because Caine’s real good at playing to sympathies, the audience’s and McGovern’s. When he finally does show his truer nature to both, it starts the film moving towards McGovern’s stint as protagonist.

Caine’s outstanding. He’s the movie. McGovern’s got some good moments and some nice implications of deeper thoughts, but her character is pretty thin. McGovern tries to deepen it but there’s only so much she can do. Director Egleson tries to compensate for McGovern’s lack of material with some meaningful shots, but the movie’s less than ninety minutes; they’re all meaningful shots. Especially the way Egleson shoots the film. He, cinematographer Paul Goldsmith, and editors William M. Anderson and Peter C. Frank do some great work in the film. The way Egleson and Goldsmith shoot McGovern and Caine’s courtship, the way the editors cut it—it’s all superb. And probably why, once the film shifts gears, it’s never able to get back up to speed. They lose too much momentum.

Riegert’s pretty good. He resists chewing on scenery a little much, but it works to imply more depth. Probably.

Kurtz is fine. It’s not a great part and it’s not a great performance, but it’s not a bad one. It’d be nice if there were some nuance to she and Caine’s relationship, but it’s not Kurtz’s fault. Egleson and screenwriter Andrew Klavan just can’t be bothered.

Patton’s okay too. Similar situation to Kurtz.

Jenny Wright gets a nice small part as McGovern’s roommate who starts working for Caine at the start of the film as an example of him being nice, hiring McGovern’s friend. Actually, it’d make the most sense if the film were from her point of view. But anyway.

A Shock to the System has a strong performance from Caine, a good one from McGovern, some spectacular direction from Egleson, some great filmmaking, and some very questionable eighties-to-nineties music from Gary Chang. The music’s a problem. Unless Caine’s preference for smooth jazz is supposed to be a sign of his sociopathy.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jan Egleson; screenplay by Andrew Klavan, based on the novel by Simon Brett; director of photography, Paul Goldsmith; edited by William M. Anderson and Peter C. Frank; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Patrick McCormick; released by Corsair Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Graham Marshall), Elizabeth McGovern (Stella Anderson), Peter Riegert (Robert Benham), Swoosie Kurtz (Leslie Marshall), Will Patton (Lt. Laker), John McMartin (George Brewster), Jenny Wright (Melanie O’Conner), Haviland Morris (Tara Liston), Philip Moon (Henry Park), and Barbara Baxley (Lillian).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND MARVELLOUS MICHAEL CAINE BLOGATHON HOSTED BY GILL OF REALWEEGIEMIDGET REVIEWS.


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The Godfather: Part III (1990, Francis Ford Coppola), the director’s cut

Here’s an all-encompassing theory to explain The Godfather Part III, based only on on-screen evidence (i.e. ignoring production woes, casting woes, rewrites, budget and schedule comprises, and whatever else). Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo hate everyone in the film and everyone who will ever watch the film—maybe Coppola didn’t cast daughter Sofia Coppola in the third lead of the film because he thought she’d be good, but instead because she’d be godawful and make everyone hate the movie, which would just validate Coppola not wanting to make it in the first place. It would also explain the terrible script, full of awful exposition sequences and hackneyed scene after hackneyed scene. Godfather Part III makes Sofia Coppola and Andy Garcia’s star-crossed romance—they’re first cousins—into a fetish. They’ve both got a cousin-smashing fetish. If you want to love Godfather 3, Coppola and Puzo say, you’ve got to love some cousins bumping uglies.

Let’s not even get into when Talia Shire does a jaw drop at Garcia’s useless stud twin bodyguards and then rubs her nephew’s hands suggestively. If Godfather 3 has any subtext, it’s icky. But saying it has subtext is a stretch. Shire seems like she’s just in the movie to wear great clothes. Her performance is utterly atrocious. Of the returning cast members, Shire’s easily the worst. See, there’s nothing good about Godfather Part III. There are no hidden gems in the film. It’s not like secretly Al Pacino gives a good performance if you just ignore the terrible dialogue. It’s not like his eyes give a different performance than his words when he’s trying to rekindle with ex-wife Diane Keaton—in the twenty-one movie years between II and III apparently Pacino decided he didn’t want to raise the kids he stole from Keaton and ships them back to her and then is estranged from the kids somewhat. Keaton’s remarried (to Brett Halsey, who seems to have just met his wife and step-kids in first scene) and Pacino’s seems to have been a baching it, living with bodyguard Richard Bright (who gives the best returning performance) and hanging out with sister Shire. It’s not clear. The first act is really inept as far as establishing the ground situation.

Godfather 3 kind of remixes styles from the previous two movies—it doesn’t seem like Carmine Coppola composes a single new piece of music for the film, just recycles material from the previous ones, as director Coppola just recycles dialogue and scenes. It all echoes, the film bellows: Don’t you remember when you loved this.

But then Coppola and Puzo grossly veer as far as characterization. Pacino doesn’t have a character. He’s got a caricaturization, not even of the character from the previous films, but of himself since then. In really bad make-up. They’re only aging Pacino ten years but the way he dodders around, shuffling, kind of glassy-eyed, it’s like the makeup person was going for seventy-five and stoned. It’s really, really, really hard not to feel bad for Pacino throughout Godfather Part 3. People remember the first one for Brando, the second one for De Niro; here, Pacino gets to be the whole show—or should be—and director Coppola instead gives all the big material to his daughter, who must give one of the worst performances in a film budgeted over fifty million dollars before 1994. It’s humiliating.

Because Pacino’s not terrible. He’s doddering, he’s pretty dense—it’s unbelievable he’s a successful anything, gangster gone businessman or gangster pretending to go businessman—the same goes for Garcia, who goes from driving a car, shooting people, yelling, picking up young girls, then picking up his cousin to being a criminal mastermind. Of course, given the mob plot in this one involves Pacino wanting to buy a huge corporation from the Vatican and the Vatican going to war with Pacino but there’s also something with Joe Mantegna as the mob guy Pacino gave the old neighborhood. Mantegna and Garcia hate each other. Garcia’s Pacino’s illegitimate nephew (and if you’re expecting a great Pacino blow-up scene after Gracia seduces Sofia Coppola, dream on; though at least Pacino disapproves, Keaton’s all for the first cousin—they bring it up to confirm–smashing). Eli Wallach plays an old mob friend who somehow wasn’t in the first two movies even though he obviously should’ve been; he’s got an agenda of his own. If you’ve seen the second movie you can figure it out pretty quick because they use the same music cues.

Speaking of the second movie, evidently the reason Pacino’s a big sweetheart now is because he feels so bad about killing his brother in the second movie. Coppola rolls that footage in the first ten minutes of the movie, clearly it’s important. Only it’s not because Pacino hasn’t got enough character for it to affect anything. Wait, wait, it does. I forgot: Franc D’Ambrosio. D’Ambrosio is Keaton and Pacino’s other kid (sadly, no, he and Garcia don’t bang too). The reason Keaton comes back into Pacino’s orbit is because she wants to support D’Ambrosio dropping out of law school to become an opera singer. See, D’Ambrosio knows Pacino had his favorite uncle killed in the last movie and wants nothing to do with him. Except in all those scenes where he hugs Pacino and tells him how much he loves him and how much he wants Pacino’s approval and blah blah blah. Until the last twenty minutes, it’s hard to get too worked up about Sofia Coppola’s performance because for as terrible as she gets, D’Ambrosio is just as bad. Coppola looked at Keaton and Pacino—who actually dated back on the second movie—and decided if they had kids, those children would grow up to give terrible performances in the worst sequel (compared to previous entries) of all time.

The complete disconnect between D’Ambrosio’s first scene and every subsequent one? It gets to be a natural feeling in Godfather 3. A lot of scenes feel reshot, even if they’re not. Like maybe Keaton and Pacino weren’t really on set at the same time for this one. Same goes for Sofia Coppola and Andy Garcia. They’ve got a couple scenes where it really doesn’t seem like they’re talking to anyone else. It’s hard to tell, because Coppola directs the film like a TV show. Instead of doing a two shot in a conversation, he’ll cut between close-ups. It’s really, really, really bad composition. Like so much in the film, it’s embarrassing.

So Pacino’s greatest success is not appearing visibly humiliated. Keaton just seems defeated. She’s terrible. The writing on her character is real bad. All the writing on characters is real bad. But Keaton is way more in Shire territory than not.

Garcia’s okay. Sort of. It’s not his fault. Also the James Caan impression stuff is stupid.

Sofia Coppola’s performance is singularly terrible. Can’t be repeated enough.

Oh, right. The supporting cast. Besides George Hamilton, who has squat to do in the film, everyone is pretty bad. Hamilton’s not good, but he at least seems excited to be in a Godfather movie. He shows up and tries. Mantegna and Wallach don’t try. Wallach just gets worse the more he’s onscreen. The Vatican Eurotrash villains—Donal Donnelly and Enzo Robutti—they’re awful too. But for different reasons. Coppola doesn’t really bother directing the actors. He must be too busy setting up terrible shots, which all have variously poor establishing shots. Gordon Willis’s photography is something dreadful, but it’s impossible to blame him. Somehow it’s got to be Coppola’s fault.

So what’s left… Bridget Fonda? She’s got an extended cameo to get in some male gaze. She’s not good. But she’s nowhere near as problematic as anyone else, even Richard Bright, just because she’s not in the movie long enough to get worse scenes. The longer you’re in Godfather 3, the worse your scenes get. Except maybe D’Ambrosio, who frequently gets completely forgotten because no one cares. He’s not banging Garcia, after all.

The scary part is it could be even worse. You can just tell. Coppola could have made an even worse film.

There is one nearly good scene in the film where Coppola lets Pacino try to feel out an honest emotion. It seems like it ought to be a scene in a film called The Godfather Part III. None of the other ones do. The rest of it feels like Puzo and Coppola really wanted to do a Vatican conspiracy thriller and shoehorned in the Corleone Family, with the cousin sex for dessert.

I don’t loathe Godfather 3, I just dread it. Every one of the 170 minutes after the first just promise something else dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, based on characters created by Puzo; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Lisa Fruchtman, Barry Malkin, and Walter Murch; music by Carmine Coppola; production designer, Dean Tavoularis; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Don Michael Corleone), Andy Garcia (Vincent Mancini), Sofia Coppola (Mary Corleone), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone Rizzi), Eli Wallach (Don Altobello), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams Michelson), Richard Bright (Al Neri), Franc D’Ambrosio (Anthony Vito Corleone), George Hamilton (B.J. Harrison), Joe Mantegna (Joey Zasa), Bridget Fonda (Grace Hamilton), Raf Vallone (Cardinal Lamberto), Donal Donnelly (Archbishop Gilday), Helmut Berger (Frederick Keinszig), Don Novello (Dominic Abbandando), John Savage (Father Andrew Hagen), and Vittorio Duse (Don Tommasino).


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The Predator (2018, Shane Black)

The Predator has a really short present action, which is both good and bad. Good because one wouldn’t want to see screenwriters Fred Dekker and director Black try for longer, bad because… well, it gets pretty dumb how fast things move along. Dekker and Black don’t do a good job with the expository speech (for a while, Olivia Munn gets all of it and deserves a prize of some kind for managing it, given how dumb the content gets) and they do a worse job with character development. They’re constantly forgetting details about their large ensemble cast, if they’re not forgetting about where their ensemble cast is in regards to the onscreen action. Black does a perfectly adequate—if utterly impersonal job—with a lot of the directing on a technical level, but he really has got zero feel for his large ensemble. Even though the story’s ostensibly about lead Boyd Holbrook (in a mostly likable performance) becoming a better dad to son Jacob Tremblay. Dekker and Black really want to pretend it matters; see, Tremblay is a kid with Asperger syndrome, which turns out to be real important since he’s the only person on the planet who can decode the Predator language and figure out what’s going on.

Though—again, Dekker and Black just make up whatever they need in a scene to keep it moving, logic be damned and double-damned—though at one point evil scientist Sterling K. Brown (who is distressingly bad) somehow knows about the internal politics of the Predator planet. Because it moves a scene along and pretends to have some kind of forward plot momentum. It turns out it’s all a bunch of hooey and the ending is a painful sequel setup, but it’s not as though the screenwriters have been successfully fooling the audience. There’s no good ending to The Predator because it’s a really stupid movie, full of mediocre action (Black’s got no ideas when it comes to his big surprise villain in the second half either and he really needs some ideas for it), and a bunch of occasionally good, usually tedious performances from actors who probably ought to have some serious conversations about why their agents made them do this movie.

Holbrook’s the lead. He’s this bad dad, bad husband (but not too bad) Army sniper who happens across a Predator attack and ships the helmet and a laser armband home to son Tremblay. Only not. He ships them to his P.O. Box and they get delivered after Holbrook defaults on the rental. So it’s seems like he’s gone for a while—however long it takes to send alien technology through customs from rural Mexico and then the post office to give up on him paying for his box—but he’s really only gone a few days because the evil government scientists have tracked him down, brought him back to the States, and are setting him up to be lobotomized or something to keep him quiet.

But then there’s Munn, who gets drafted to work for Brown and the evil government scientists because, in addition to being a world famous biologist, she once wrote the President she’d like to help with alien animals or some nonsense. Again, the character “detail” is just nonsense but nonsense Munn can bring some charm to in her delivery so it’s in. It’s usually fine with Munn; it’s bad when it’s from a charmless performance, which—to be fair—The Predator only has a few. Like Brown.

Remember before when I said the story outside the alien monster hunting people in what appears to be the Pacific Northwest because the movie’s just a rip-off of that godawful second Alien vs. Predator movie is about Holbrook getting to be a better dad. Not really. The closest Black comes to finding a story arc is Munn. She loses it after a while, but when she’s got the spotlight, even when the film’s wanting, it’s got its most potential. Holbrook’s a fine supporting guy, but he’s not a lead.

The rest of the cast… Trevante Rhodes give the film’s best performance. Keegan-Michael Key’s stunt-ish casting is fine. Thomas Jane’s is less so, mostly because Jane never gets the time to establish his character. The film forgets about Alfie Allen so much he could just as well be uncredited. Augusto Aguilera is fun; not good, not funny, but fun. Jake Busey’s kind of great in a small role, just because he brings so much professionalism to a project completely undeserving of it.

Tremblay’s kind of annoying as the kid, but only because the script also wants to pretend it’s about the little boy learning there are space aliens thing too.

There’s just not enough time for all the movies Black and Dekker try to pretend The Predator can be so instead they give up and do something entirely derivative, something often dumb, something to waste any of the good performances, something lazy.

The Predator is an exceptionally lazy, pointless motion picture.

And the music, by Henry Jackman, is bad.

Good CGI ultra-violence I guess? Though Black doesn’t know how to use it. Because apparently Predator movies are really hard to figure out how to make.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Shane Black; screenplay by Fred Dekker and Black, based on characters created by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by Harry B. Miller III; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Martin Whist; produced by John Davis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Boyd Holbrook (McKenna), Trevante Rhodes (Williams), Jacob Tremblay (Rory), Keegan-Michael Key (Coyle), Olivia Munn (Brackett), Sterling K. Brown (Traeger), Thomas Jane (Baxley), Alfie Allen (Lynch), Augusto Aguilera (Nettles), and Jake Busey (Keyes).


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Sum Up | 3’6″

“From thy wedding with the creature who touches heaven, lady God preserve thee.”

Eighth Wonder

Most film blogathons are actor, actress, director, sub-genre themed. If you’re trying to branch out, if you just haven’t had a chance to write about something you love yet, they’re efficient opportunities for some post subject variety. Even though I rarely write about films I’ve seen before and instead am often writing about films one can skip, it’s a great way to maintain some perspective. Film viewing has always had a hard shell to its bubble.

In the fifteen years since I started blogging, I’ve wanted to keep my film blogging bubble pliable. Even before I realized why it should be pliable, I knew it had to be; after college but before grad school—when I started The Stop Button in 2004—I was in a film snob limbo. In 2003, intellectually fueled by foreign films from Netflix, Buster Keaton, and being Pianist perplexed, I gave up on new movies. I ended up taking a two or three year break and never got back into the theatergoing experience as much. Except for fine arts theaters and movie series. Even though I don’t have any of the posts anymore, the first year of Stop Button posts were all about Sam Fuller and whatever else we saw at this film series. And I’d moved on from Netflix to Nicheflix, since I’d had to go region-free very, very early to get films like Larger Than Life (the Bill Murray one) widescreen or Gance’s Napoleon at all; Nicheflix is where I discovered Korean film. Nicheflix was great.

I also had this (probably annoying) thing where if someone recommended a movie to me, I’d watch something else from the same director. Same writer-director. It wasn’t like someone said to watch The Conversation so instead I watched Jack. But new indie auteurs, I’d go in real suspect.

But I never wanted The Stop Button to be too focused on a genre or sub-genre.

Things have veered Classic Hollywood over the last couple years, but it’s mostly because blogathons and lack of film blogging time.

Mutually exclusive but concurrent is my Film—capital letter—philosophy. What I think and why, which almost always figures into how I write about individual films. And this capital Film philosophy didn’t start with The Stop Button or in undergrad film snobbery, or playing Clerks after high school, or having themed overnight movie marathons with friends during high school, or going to movies with summer camps before high school, or going to movies at birthday parties before middle school. Not to mention just watching VHS tapes because it was so cool to watch a movie at home. And if that thrill ran out, letterbox and LaserDisc.

My Film philosophy is changing all the time, usually because of a film. And I’d never thought about what I’d consider my most influential film. The one with the most permanent ramification for my capital Film philosophy. So definitely not the latest big “changer” either; it’s an intellectual fad—a justified one, I hope—but still something to be developed upon. And also understood with that eventuality. There’s no end-all-be-all movie to see. The Day the Clown Cried is not going to make all other film narrative superfluous.

So what about something I’ve consciously considered for a long time. Last summer, through a blogathon, I discovered the movie I had spent years thinking was Vertigo but wasn’t; I had avoid Vertigo because this film memory had scared me so much I refused to do a “close your eyes” exercise in kindergarten because I thought it would make you into a monster. Young and Innocent; different Hitchcock; thirty-five year-old movie mystery solved.

So would Young and Innocent be the most influential movie in those thirty-five years? No. Not any more than how I was convinced Monster Squad had a candle blowing out for foreshadowing and no one—of middle school Monster Squad fans–believed me. It does, of course; they pan-and-scanned it out for video. So Monster Squad, even for those few years it stayed active in my mind?

Nope, no, heck no, hell no. Ew Monster Squad.

Also I’d forgotten about the candle blowing out mystery by the time I did see Monster Squad widescreen again.

I was a Star Wars kid. Big time. Was it Star Wars? No. Star Wars was more than brand loyalty. Brand franchise loyalty, actually. Superman? No, not back then as much. What else did I watch a lot as a kid?

I mean, I was a monster kid. What about Frankenstein? I did a paper on Boris Karloff in grade school.

And then… Kong.

Of course. King Kong.

Blamin' it all

The 1933 version of King Kong is responsible for my childhood fascination with New York City, which lead to various family trips over the years. Kong is why I had to have Empire State Building memorabilia. Kong is partially why a lot. Kong is why New York is why Empire State building is why Art Deco is why thirties history why history is why undergrad major.

I don’t remember the first time I saw it. If I’m guessing, three at the latest? Because I know I saw Empire in the theater and I would’ve been two and a few months. And Raiders. I saw Raiders a little too young for head-melting. Kong would’ve been TV or video. I’m pretty sure we copied it from the library’s VHS. Once in-home VHS copying was a thing.

I know I watched Kong with my friends. Made my friends watch Kong is probably more accurate, since it was middle school before one of them ever stood up for black and white movies. The eighties and nineties were wanting for a lot. But I don’t remember who or when or if we did Kong marathons. Maybe? I know a family friend was a Kong buddy but only because people reminded me about it later. I have no memory of the actual movie watching, just the reminders.

I also know I watched Kong '33 less as I got into high school. Because my high school capital Film philosophy involved how special effects ought to be integrated and while Kong ’33 has singular special effects, their integration didn’t have as many modern applications as Kong ’76. I got to be a practical effects absolutist in late middle school. But less Willis O’Brien and more Phil Tippett. Then Jurassic Park killed stop motion and I dug in on practical. It’s only the last six years or so I’ve evened out that hill.

But I watched some Kong ’33 in college. And after. It’s been a while, but I know when I wrote about it for Stop Button eleven years ago I gabbed about it to my podcast cohost in a pre-show. Kong’s gotten to the point whenever I do get to ruminate on it, it’s a memorable rumination.

I do remember getting the Nostalgia Merchant VHS. It was one of the first items in my VHS collection. Kong helped get me addicted to media. I never replaced that Nostalgia Merchant copy, which was the uncut version (for the first time on home video). I have this vague memory of getting both it and the uncut Frankenstein in some big box store in the late eighties. We might have been on a family vacation because not many stores around us had sell-through VHS sections yet. Or, if they did, they were limited and always list price.

A few years later, Turner did an official release, as well as a colorized. I still haven’t seen the colorized version. Both VHS boxes were terrible and not the kind of thing you wanted to be seen picking up in a video store in 1990. The 1993 sixtieth anniversary edition box was better but I didn’t upgrade my Nostalgia Merchant. Not until—sometime in the late 1990s—I got the Criterion CLV version. There was CAV, which allowed frame-by-frame pausing, and CLV, which did not. Either the CAV was out of print or I didn’t want to spend $100 on a Kong LaserDisc. So I got the CLV.

Before getting the DVD—I waited for the official DVD release, even though it was available overseas (and possibly through Nicheflix) because RKO movies weren’t Warner overseas—I got at least one other copy of Kong on LaserDisc, because it had a different audio commentary. I’m not sure I’ve listened to any Kong audio commentary. I sort of think I have, but I’m not sure. It’s likely. Ish. But I sure had a lot of them.

I actually don’t have the Blu-ray. I didn’t even realize it had been released. By the time I did, I was able to just it digital; 1080p. Frame-by-frame pausing. Finally.

I’ve had easy access to Kong for almost thirty years.

But I’m forty. Those ten years before having a TV in my room, I had a different kind of access to Kong. One with an authoritative but a complicated, somewhat specious footing in reality. And it did take a toll on me and Kong.

Conehead

More than King Kong the movie, I grew up with King Kong the movie as related in a book. Ian Thorne’s King Kong book for Crestwood House, published in 1977. It was a whole “Monsters Series” by Thorne where he summarized the film, talked about how it was made, talked about its legacy. The Kong one talks about Son of Kong, Mighty Joe Young, King Kong vs. Godzilla, the 1976 Kong. And Queen Kong. I’d been wanting to see Queen Kong since I was four.

The book series was a reading life-changer for me. My mom frequently told the tale of how I had zero interest in reading until Crestwood Monsters, then becoming a voracious reader of all things. Including other monster books featuring Kong.

Except they rarely, if ever, really featured King Kong. Instead, they use the touched-up promotional photographs RKO did back in 1933. Kong appears more “realistic” in some of them. In others he appears to be from one hundred to five hundred feet tall and have a rather peculiar cone-shaped head. The conehead gave other monster kids an excuse not to like Kong, even though the images don’t accurately represent the Kong of the film at all. So even before I slowed down on watching Kong ’33 before I was focusing on my theories of practical special effects applications, I stopped talking about it because of social pressures.

The colorized version probably didn’t help things.

But it isn’t just the studio retouch artists changed the shape of Kong’s head, they changed his whole body. They also changed scenes. While audiences in 1933 might have understood a lobby card wasn’t necessarily an accurate representation of the film’s onscreen content, I was checking out a non-fiction book fifty-some years later. Not just non-fiction. I got adult non-fiction books too. These books were the real thing.

Only not at all.

And not just the look of Kong, but the scenes in the film. There’s no triceratops in King Kong. The T. Rex fight doesn’t go down this way. There’s no long shot of Kong on the Empire State Building with a half dozen biplanes in frame. The pterodactyl doesn’t have teeth. The retouch artists changed the expectation of the action beats. It’s great marketing. Exceptional marketing. But also rather annoying because it means I don’t quite remember what’s in Kong.

It also means there’s surprise every time I do watch it.

Legacy

Back before TCM, back before AMC, Kong didn’t lead me to a lot of other films. Son of Kong, sure. Mighty Joe Young, at least once. But Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, and Robert Armstrong didn’t go on to much an eight year-old would see. We didn’t watch Westerns when I was growing up, so no occasional Cabot or Armstrong appearances in a John Ford movie. I don’t even remember seeing Armstrong in anything else until The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, which our video store did carry, but I would’ve watched it after The Thin Man series and I didn’t get super into Thin Man until at least 1990.

Even when I was watching classics en masse (AMC, then TCM), it was usually only Armstrong who’d show up in some supporting role. Fay Wray I never saw on AMC or TCM. I’d gotten The Most Dangerous Game in 1995 on LaserDisc—same filmmakers as Kong, same jungle set—and she’s the female lead in it, but otherwise, nothing.

Bruce Cabot… I can’t even remember the first time I saw him in anything else.

Directors Schoedsack and Cooper? I mean, I did get to see Blind Adventure (reuniting some Kong and Son of Kong cast and crew) a few years ago and that’s good, but Last Days of Pompeii? I’ve been meaning to watch it for ten years and just never get around to it. I haven’t seen Mighty Joe Young since high school when it didn’t impress me and I loathe Most Dangerous Game these days. While Kong got me very interested in film—and filmmaking—it didn’t directly lead to much.

Neither did any of my favorite classic monster movies as a kid. Little did I understand studio contracts back then.

When I wrote about Kong for The Stop Button in 2008, I had come back to it after getting an MFA in writing. I had a completely different set of examination tools. It had already gone through the history BA toolkit and the anti-CGI toolkit and the pro-CGI toolkit (I was tentatively onboard with CGI until the 1998 Godzilla or so) and whatever else going back to age three. Kong, as always, excelled no matter how I understood Film. No matter what I thought the film was supposed to do, what it needed to do, what it couldn’t do, what it shouldn’t do.

And more than excelling, it further informs, further clarifies, further focuses the all-important capital Film philosophy.

Because it’s undeniable. It’s King Kong.


THIS POST IS PART OF THE FILM THAT STARTED IT ALL BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CAZ OF LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES.


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