|Fig. 1. King Kong (1933)|
King Kong follows the events surrounding Carl Denhem's - a film director - disastrous voyage to Skull Island. On Skull Island Denhem and the crew he has hired are assailed by a native tribe, who kidnap his leading lady - Ann Darrow, and offer her up as sacrifice to a monstrously huge ape who happens to have a penchant for women, specifically blondes. The crew are then brutalised by other giant monsters, ranging from dinosaurs, to giant lizards, to Nessie, who inhabit the island, as they attempt to rescue her. The first mate and Ann's love interest - Jack Driscoll, manages to single handedly rescue her. As the surviving crew flee the island, Denham is able to subdue Kong, and so takes the beast back to New York, as an attraction. Kong breaks free and terrorises the city, re-kidnapping Ann, before being shot to death by biplanes as he roars from atop the Empire State Building.
Foreshadowing is used to great effect throughout, mainly through its innovative musical score which, unlike silent films, doesn't simply serve as background music, but moves with the action, underlining the personality of the characters, the tension and drama in specific scenes, building anticipation and adding impact to otherwise unseeming events or actions. Nathan Platte states that, "In the prevailing histories of American film music, the first three notes of Max Steiner’s score for King Kong (1933) bear much weight. As the film’s block-lettered title surges from background to foreground, low brass intone a chromatic descent—B, B-flat, A—each slab of sound foreshadowing the approach of an oversized ape and, ostensibly, an era of original, symphonic underscoring in Hollywood sound film." (Platte, 2014:311). There are other notable elements of foreshadowing. Denham's initial reference to 'Beauty and the Beast' when Ann Darrow states "Ignatz is nice to me too. He likes me better than he does anyone else on board, don't you Iggy?" - Iggy being the ship's capuchin monkey, is an ironic prediction of what is to come. There is also an implication that Denham's sources who exposed the existence of Skull Island died trying to get away from it, and the native's foreboding drumming is heard from the ship before landing as if warning them away.
|Figure 2. Close up of Kong eating a native (1933)|
|Figure 3. Denham saves Ann from a fruit vendor (1933)|
Sadly, King Kong is characterised and indeed reliant upon lashings of the sexist and racist attitudes not atypical at the time of its production (Hairston, 2007:189). The character of Ann Darrow faints dramatically into the arms of Carl Denham within seconds of her introduction on screen, supposedly from the stress of having been caught stealing (see fig. 3.). The only reason why she matters at all is purely because Denham wants a woman in his film as a selling point, the plot immediately stresses that her only worth is as eyecandy and she is shown to be utterly defenseless, weak, and indeed generally hopeless throughout the entirety of the film. Even her love interest with Jack Driscoll serves only to provide a reason for him to be so concerned with rescuing her. Leading up to their kiss he has only had disparaging comments to make concerning her gender, certainly not grounds for an emotional connection, but all it takes for a man to charm a woman they've consistently belittled is a square jaw and clumsy confession, right?
|Figure 4. The 'primitive' tribe of Skull Island (1933)|
|Figure 5. Kong arrives to claim Ann (1933)|
When speaking on the matter of racial sensitivity regarding the numerous remakes of King Kong Andrea Hairston said, "You may swear that you are not presenting yet another version of black male/gorilla brute who lusts after innocent white womanhood and gets lynched for his audacious passion, but if she's blonde and civilized and he's dark, wild, monstrously violent, and at home in the heart of darkness, when he tumbles a hundred stories to his death once again, you are perpetuating the cultural landscape you claim to abhor." (Hairston, 2007:188). Kong shares many of the qualities of the Skull Islander's themselves and is ultimely rendered as a more primal, more powerful exaggeration of the 'black other'. Indeed there is no rational reason for a Gorilla, 50ft tall or otherwise, to take any interest in a human female of any ethnicity. Why the islander's have been 'sacrificing' women to Kong is a mystery, and the interaction that plays out between Kong and Ann ends up sexual in nature; Kong is fascinated by her femininity, clearly shown in the restored scene where he begins to undress Ann, breathing in the scent of her clothing.
Upon the return to New York, in introducing Kong to the 'civilised' crowd Denham almost takes on the role of slave owner - "He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive - a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World." - and when Kong breaks loose, seeking out Darrow, it inevitably results in him being cast down and destroyed by the white man for his transgressions.
|Figure 6. Gore Verbinki's portrayal of cannibalistic islanders (2006)|
Edwards, Graham (2013) How King Kong Was Filmed (Or Not). At: http://cinefex.com/blog/king-kong-or-not/ (Accessed on 16.10.16)
Ebert, Roger (2002) Great Movie: King Kong. At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-king-kong-1933 (Accessed on 16.10.16)
Hairston, Andrea (2007) 'Lord of the Monsters: Minstrelsy Redux: King Kong, Hip Hop, and the Brutal Black Buck' In: Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 18 (2) pp.187-199
LEGENDARY (2015) LEGENDARY AND WARNER BROS. PICTURES ANNOUNCE CINEMATIC FRANCHISE UNITING GODZILLA, KING KONG AND OTHER ICONIC GIANT MONSTERS. At: http://www.legendary.com/legendary-and-warner-bros-pictures-announce-cinematic-franchise-uniting-godzilla-king-kong-and-other-iconic-giant-monsters/ (Accessed on 13.10.16)
Platte, Nathan (2014) 'Before Kong Was King: Competing Methods in Hollywood Underscore' In: Journal of the Society for American Music 8 (3) pp.311-337
Tuck, Greg (2008) 'When more is less: CGI, spectacle and the capitalist sublime' In: Science Fiction Film and Television 1 (2) pp.249-273
List of Illustrations
Figure 1. King Kong (1993) [Poster] At: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e4/ed/88/e4ed88d4bf6357282240d93a0e7462ce.jpg (Accessed on 13.10.16)
Figure 2. King Kong (1933) [Film Still: Close up of King Kong eating a native] At: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/05/1e/37/051e37662a8d8927fab62d790f3ae8bd.jpg (Accessed on 16.10.16)
Figure 3. King Kong (1933) [Film Still: Denham saves Ann from a fruit vendor] At: https://billydunleavy.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/kong1.jpg (Accessed on 16.10.16)
Figure 4. King Kong (1933) [Film Still: The 'primitive' tribe of Skull Island] At: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-gCC7ZKUpVd0/UTRUsjj1K0I/AAAAAAAAJbI/kCfA6upLht8/s1600/king_kong_natives-23591.jpg (Accessed on 16.10.16)
Figure 5. King Kong (1993) [Film Still: Kong arrives to claim Ann] At: https://marruda3.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/king-kong-1933-first-appearance.jpg (Accessed on 16.10.16)
Figure 6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) [Film Still: Gore Verbinki's portrayal of cannibalistic islanders] At: http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/fulcron/images/4/47/Abitanti_Unkulunkulu.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20160322150515&path-prefix=it (Accessed on 16.10.16)