March 02, 2017

Today in History: King Kong barges into New York — and the classic film canon (1933)

John RobsonResident Historian
 

On March 2, 1933 King Kong barged into New York and the canon. Yes, the canon. As with Shakespeare or Dickens, you have to know Kong to appreciate what came after it, properly.

Sure, the special effects in older films can be hard to watch today, and sometimes the acting too. But such films as Kong and Dracula inspired the next generation of directors and so on down to our own day.

This tale of a mighty, doomed giant ape, bestial yet oddly noble, was an instant classic, worthy of endless imitation and satire.

And we will enjoy today’s movies more if we can see Kong with fresh eyes.

Comments
You must be logged in to comment. Click here to log in.
commented 2017-03-02 19:19:16 -0500
@barry Ellis…right you are Barry this was actually very pains taking work in it’s era and I can still get transported in suspended disbelief by the jungle scenes. And as for the perrennial theme..well as the song goes..

“Tale as old as time song as old as rhyme beauty and the beast”
commented 2017-03-02 15:58:10 -0500
I really enjoy John Robson’s historical commentaries (although unfortunately they are fairly infrequent), and this one was no exception. However, I must take issue with one of his supporting comments about King Kong. Although there have been various remakes and endless revisiting of the King Kong mythos, he was specifically referencing the original 1933 version, complete with some sample film footage.

A couple of times he alluded to the guy in the unconvincing rubber suit, whereas in fact the original Kong used no such thing. The special effect technique employed by the production crew, was stop motion animation, using an 18 inch high miniature of Kong. (I won’t go into detail here on the actual methodology of the effect, as it is easily researched on the internet.) And yes, for the most part, this very time consuming special effect art form is about as convincing to today’s jaded movie audiences as the infamous “man in a rubber suit.” Although it still has its fans and devotees,stop motion animation has been largely (if not completely) displaced by CGI (computer generated graphics).

My comments in no way detract from the essence of John Robson’s presentation, that is, great artists and thinkers have always built upon the intellectual and cultural heritage they acquired from their contemporaries and those of previous generations. So even though today many may wonder what the attraction was for audiences witnessing the 1933 King Kong, when you realize that it actually saved RKO studios from bankruptcy as well as becoming an instantly recognizable cultural icon, I think it’s also important to realize that these things did not occur because of some guy in a rubber suit.