Well we’ve all been locked out of theaters for a while, so clearly there will be time to make a few adjustments at home. This week I took all the Laserdiscs off my Walls and out of the 2×4 Kallax shelves in my office and relocated them to the vacant 5×5 Kallax unit in my daughters former room.
Originally I’d planned on rotating the discs on the walls and doing themes from time to time, but because everything was so tightly packed and close to the floor, I only managed once or twice to move things around since I first put up the system for displaying them.
The original films on the wall sometimes were subsequently covered up by Big Sleeve Editions on contemporary films or newly acquired discs without much of a plan.
I’m going to try to keep the look less clustered but my first new theme did use all three walls. You should be able to tell where this is going.
So there you are, a virtual tour of the display in my office. When I get tired of this theme, I’ll try something else. Feel free to leave some suggestions.
Do you ever sit down for a movie with a rush of excitement pumping through your chest? Have you ever broken your face from grinning from ear to ear? Have you ever been so happy that you gasp at, laugh at and cheer lines from the movie you are watching? If you have done none of these things I can confidently say you have not seen King Kong on the big screen. Another Fathom Event presented by TCM got me out of the house during this time of “Social Distancing” and although I am a little lightheaded, it’s not due to exposure to COVID-19, rather it is a result of being contaminated by this 87 year old treasure.
“King Kong” is a cultural touchstone for cinema fans. The groundbreaking special effects laid the groundwork for the kinds of fantasy films that we see today. The mix of animated articulated models, stop motion photography and rear projection. made it possible for the world to imagine the impossible and we have done so ever since. Kong continues to be a character in films but even more importantly, the concept of bringing our imagination to life has accelerated every decade, exponentially, ever since. Young audiences need to forget their prejudices about B&W films, old style acting and antique special effects. It is the heart of this movie that matters and the energy it imbues in a viewer should always be inspiring.
I get as caught up in the excitement of the film as Carl Denham does when he tries to convince Ann Darrow to join his expedition. He is the antithesis of Ian Malcolm. The devil with the natural world, he is going to subjugate it and exploit it and do so unashamedly. John Hammond is Carl Denham on tranquilizers. As the film moves along you can quickly understand why. We are in awe of the towering gate that the natives of Skull Island hide behind. We are amazed at the animals from the “dinosaur” family that we encounter, and we are terrified but also thrilled at the appearance of the majestic alpha of the island. Denham want to photograph the native ceremony, put Ann in a scene with Kong himself, and finally he gets the idea of capturing the beast and bringing him back to civilization.
The opening of the film in New York during the Great Depression is haunting with it’s sadness and desperation. It is also a nice time machine to let us see the world of that era. The electric lights that make up the ads around Time Square are dazzling today, much less 87 years ago. The women lining up at the shelter are haunting but not in the way that today’s homeless population is. The sexism of Jack Driscoll would have him tarred and feathered today, but even in 1933 it seems quaintly romantic. It’s not toxic masculinity, he has old fashioned thoughts but mostly in a desire to protect the female of the species. He is not a bad guy, just a product of his times.
“Kong” is of course the real star, and the combination of special effects and story make him a compelling character, even though he is a monster. You may sympathize with him occasionally, but then you watch him stomp on a native villager, or bite one of the sailors into pieces. Remember, he not only derails and crushes a carload of people on an elevated train, he grabs a sleeping women out of her bed in a high rise, and when he sees that she is not Ann, he simply tosses her away, twenty stories to the ground and death.
The music from Max Steiner innovativly creates suspense and character. It is not simply filler or background music, it is part of how the story is being told. The Overture goes for five minutes before the film starts and it gets you worked up for what is coming very effectively. This was a TCM Event so Ben Mankiewicz hosted and provided a nice into and brief exit for the film. The reason to go however id that you get to see The Eighth Wonder of the World in his natural habitat, a movie theater.
The strength of Pixar films has always been the way they manage to take an original idea and flesh it out into something the audience can relate to. Some of the concepts have been straightforward; a family of superheros, the secret life of toys, cars as people. Other concepts have been downright strange; a rat who cooks, a lonely robot, a princess who turns her mother into a bear. Regardless of the oddity of the conceit, the Pixar crew has managed to make these movies work to a large degree. Our current example is one of the weird ones. In a fantasy world that has forgotten magic, two elves must finish a spell to bring their dead father back for just one day.
I think the reason that the films of Pixar succeed for the most part is the way the creators wholeheartedly embrace their idea and run with it. Director Dan Scanlon and his collaborators Jason Headley and Keith Bunin have grabbed their idea and run with it. They commit to the universe they are creating and try to play with it as much as possible. There may be occasional inconsistencies, but they hardly matter as we plunge quickly into the story and become familiar with the characters. The plot is a basic mash up of a high school coming of age story and a fantasy quest. The fact that these ideas are familiar to us may explain why we don’t worry too much about the characters we encounter. We will just go with the flow if we can have some characters to relate to.
“Onward” gives us two characters that we will understand immediately but also come to care for by the end of the film. Tom Holland is not really stretching much by playing an awkward teen with unforeseen powers. We’ve seen the Spider-Man movies. Here the character is animated but it continues to be Holland’s slightly nasally voice and young sounding pitch that sells the character to us. Ian Lightfoot is turning sixteen and it makes him nervous. In fact everything makes him nervous, partially because he missed ever meeting his father who died before he was born. Lack of confidence is not the weakness of his older brother “Barley” however, he dives in head first with enthusiasm to most things. The bravado of the character is also perfectly realized by the voice talents of Holland;s Avengers co-star Chris Pratt. The two of them together are a mismatched pair of brothers out on a road trip. The scenario creates plenty of opportunities for humor but you know that a Pixar film is not going to forgo the sentiment. There is an interesting switch in the purpose of their quest, which manages to make the movie more poignant at the end. It is another example of the writers taking a concept and finding ways to work it that are not obvious from the start. Maybe the quest is predictable, but the emotions are not.
As always with these computer generated dreams (or nightmares if you remember Cars 2), there is a fantastic look to the production. The characters are realized in ways that give us shorthand on their archetypes, but they still look original. The two brothers are Elfish but in very distinctive ways. Their Mom’s boyfriend is the nice guy cop, who maybe is a little bit of a nebbish despite being a centaur. The path that the kids take is fraught with adventure, but the biggest fright is simply being a new driver trying to merge onto the freeway. I loved the way they played with unicorns in the story, they are essentially the scavengers of this world, and like our own scavengers, they can look benign like a raccoon, but they can be pretty nasty as well. Spites turn into bikers and dragons are made of rubble, and it works because the creatives found ways for us to relate to those images.
The secondary characters fill in some space and provide a little more opportunity to play with the fantasy world, but the focus is correctly placed on the two brothers. As usual, the music cues us in on emotional moments, but like many contemporary films, it relies on our knowledge to find the right feeling. You will hear some passages that sound like they are out of a spaghetti western, and some motifs that belong in a fantasy film. There are clear action beats as the Indiana Jones moments are playing out as well. I don’t know how well the Disney team has marketed the film. I did not have a high degree of anticipation for it, but having seen it, I now know they have a solid film. I hope it lands with audiences the way it did with me.