Saturday, December 03, 2005

Nine Changes to the Eighth Wonder of the World

There is a flash back to Kong’s early childhood, which explains everything. The flashback is in black and white. In fact, it is Mighty Joe Young , a film made after the original King Kong, but before the remakes. The flashback explains everything. Kong was discovered earlier as a child talent and brought to New York. He fell in love with a blonde ingenue. He was betrayed. He died. This all happened before. What happens now, in the new movie is all a recapitulation for Kong, a compulsion to repeat, an eternal return, a temptation to try and relive and master certain pivotal experiences. In this light, Kong’s fall resembles that of Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo and engages similar themes.

There is a further flash back to Kong’s earlier childhood. He’s just a little massive baby, a cute little boulder with little black dots for eyes. His parents stand above him, massive trunks of black fur. We can hear them talking but cannot make out what they are saying. The father is louder. The mother seems to reply in calming tones. “King of the Jungle!” “King of the Jungle!” the father seems to be repeating, though it is not clear if it is a question, a sneer, a boast, a blessing or an affirmation. His legs seem to sway a little. Is he drunk? We don’t learn that much about Kong’s parents.

Kong’s best friend growing up is a dinosaur named Harold. We see them playing together, the cute little gigantic monkey and his enormous reptile pal. They play tricks on one another. They get into trouble. They have adventures. Harold likes being groomed like a little bird. He affectionately pecks at things in Kong’s fur. They share a piece of jungle pie. “Do you suppose there’s something out beyond Skull Island?” asks Kong. Harold doesn’t know. He’s too busy working on his muscle car.

This background gives a great deal of depth to the scene in the movie where Kong and the dinosaur fight to the death: the action is sudden, violent, and senseless. Why does Harold attack? Anger at some falling out that we have missed? Did they become rivals or enemies at one point? Or lovers? Is it jealousy? Does Harold know what will become of Kong and Skull Island now that the White Man and Sexy White Woman have arrived? Is Harold’s action a political action, an act of resistance? A final gesture of friendship, of love for a world they once shared? The picture does not answer these questions.

In the context of the new film, it is clear the woman, Ann Darrows, has a “jungle fever” thing. The point is made subtly: the World Wildlife Federation tote bag, her musical tastes, her speaking Spanish, her DVD collection including Gorillas in the Mist and all the Planet of the Apes movies, her string of exotic boyfriends who she clearly fancied, but couldn’t connect with. She is also the direct relation of Clarence Darrows, of the Scopes “Monkey Trial.”

Kong asks a lot more questions in the new version. Not just “What is that?” and “Where are we going?” and “What time is it?” but also: “Is this New York?” “Is he kidding?” “How do you tell if a girl likes you?” “Do I have to wear I tie?” and “Is that the tallest building?”

In an intense confrontation scene, Kong meets bad, bad Leroy Brown.

Kong cries. As he climbs the Empire State, Kong realizes that she doesn’t love him, at least not the way he wants to be loved and that his desire, his need for this love has taken a destructive turn for them both. His tears make the sound of bombs falling on the way down; people and cars bounce around like ants in rain. They talk about it. “I loved you more ” says she. She is always saying that. Kong finally thinks about it. In what sense is this true? Considering all that’s happened. Kong wonders what she means and why it’s important to her, but before he can finish the thought, there is the sound of biplanes.

Kong sings. Not a lot, but over the end credits.

I fell into a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down
and the flames jumped higher
and it burns, burns, burns
the ring of fire
the ring of fire

Monday, November 28, 2005

Holidays with Van


Different things make a holiday authentic for individuals. For some it’s a particular dish or climate. For me, it’s a person. And that person is James Bond. It’s just not the same without the James Bond marathon.


I grew up learning to cook for Thai people and what I have learned is this: approach seasoning as though you were doing the musical score for a big, big Hollywood movie: in every part, in every mouthful someone should be saying something like “This time it’s personal” or “When you disintegrate a man, you’d better disintegrate him good” or “Topless Pizza Party! Whoo-hoo!” and then there has to be a whole orchestra backing that sentiment up and this has to be so monstrously, transparently clear that 13 year olds, sullen adolescents, jaded posers, tired parents, retards, the elderly and people who ride the bus can understand, as well as their counterparts in Jakarta, Belgrade and Siberia. It has to be obvious, because it has to be part of an international auxiliary language of sequels and t-shirts. This is how to have to season the food: not too much, but constantly, like you were putting make-up on a gaping wound.


I don’t know about your Mom, but my Mom likes to play classical music every holiday, or when she’s cleaning, which is every holiday. By “classical” music, my Mom means what most people mean, plus orchestral music generally: it all tends to be pretty and pretty familiar: Beethoven’s Ninth and “Lark on a String” inhabit their orbits in the carousel of the CD changer with a certain regularity rivaled only by their celestial counterparts. It’s also a little indiscriminate, so over Thanksgiving and Christmas, I typically can slip a few other CD’s in, including Messiaen and movie sound scores. I particularly like to put on Bernard Herrmann’s score to Psycho , because it’s frantic pace insures I get a lot done and I like to pretend I am Janet Leigh trying to scoot out of town with a purse full of bank money and a massive rack. The trick of every holiday meal is timing, so I try to tent the turkey in foil if it is browning too quickly and I take it out for an hour before carving to firm up and to dress it before bringing it out to the table. Then I excuse myself to the rest of the waiting table to get changed out of my cooking clothes before the carving. I come back in a dress and a wig. I wait for my cue. Then I rip off the foil in one movement and start stabbing. Then I say to the guests: I live with my Mom.