It could easily be said that I am a movie buff. It all started with my mother sending my brother and me to the Saturday matinee. It cost a dime, maybe it was 25 cents for both of us; certainly it was not more than 25 cents apiece.
A theater full of kids yelling and screaming, throwing popcorn, poking each other, running up and down the aisles, catapulting Milk Duds at the screen and no one cared, certainly not the mothers who had the afternoon off and a babysitter for 25 cents.
Cartoons, of course, and a weekly cliffhanger serial, then there was a cowboy movie. The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy’s horse was named Trigger, Gene’s was Champion, Hoppy’s was Topper and, of course, the Lone Ranger’s was Silver. And then there was the Cisco Kid. I really liked the Cisco Kid because his partner was Poncho, played by Leo Carrillo, and my father, a longtime resident of Southern California, knew Leo Carrillo. Dad told stories about Leo showing up at nightclubs wearing his huge sombrero he transported in a special hat box built into his convertible. I thought that was cool. (Recently I Googled the Cisco Kid and one of his movies came up called The Cisco Kid in The Gay Amigo. The less said about that the better.)
As a teenager I became a devotee of bad “B” movies that were shown at the drive-in. Yes, I liked monster flicks, but more importantly, with a lame movie at the drive-in you could do a lot of “making out” in the back seat of a 1956 Pontiac. And, as a bonus, if you were later asked by a parent what movie you saw or what it was about you didn’t have to be too inventive to recount the proper scenario. They were all the same.
What was the movie about? “Well, these guys went into the desert and were eaten by these huge atomic ants.” The star? “Oh, he was that cowboy guy on TV.” The other movie of the double feature? Well these guys were in the jungle and there was this monster that lived under the water. They were in this lagoon. Yeah, that was the name of it, The Monster That Lived Under the Water in the Jungle Lagoon.”
If you were asked you could dazzle your date’s mother with information like that. Luckily I was rarely asked.
And then I saw King Kong. It was different. It was a real story, not just a scary movie about an organism from outer space. This was a movie about a real adventure. A man has a map, gets on a boat, goes to an uncharted island and finds natives, dinosaurs and a huge gorilla. Yeah, that could happen. If you see it as a kid, of course it could happen. If you see it as a teenager you want it to happen. Yeah, King Kong was uncommon among creature features; it was a real adventure.
Something odd happened when I first saw the movie and it continues to happen every time I rewatch it or one of the two sequels. I identify with King Kong. I don’t care about the people. They are just arrogant humans, egotistical jerks who shoot up the island, who think they can do what they want, take what isn’t theirs and make Kong a slave.
Kong as a character is unique, an original, the ultimate individual, the independent that is misunderstood and humans think he is a thing that must be captured and domesticated. Each remake of this tale is a little different, but each has the same grain of truth. All of them are telling us about ourselves, about our human comprehension of the world.
Go out and find Kong, something that you can’t understand, try and fit it into your thought process, shove it around, mash it into your rules and if it rejects your efforts, drug it, take it to New York City, peddle it and when it fights back… kill it.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about King Kong. Why do I identify with a fantasy gorilla? It isn’t a monster movie like the atomic ants that eat people in the desert. To my way of thinking, King Kong is a metaphor. To me he is the individual against the herd, the lone stranger, the solitary thinker against the organized group; the cry of logic in the darkness of the inquisition. King Kong is about the human psyche… not the gorilla psyche.
In the 1960’s and the 70’s if you rode a Harley chopper, sported long hair and a beard and God forbid you were from California, you were King Kong. You were the cowboy stranger that the townspeople didn’t understand. They threatened you with a necktie party or ran you out of town. They were the herd, they were many and you were by yourself. Captain America and Billy in Easy Rider were the strangers; they were King Kong and never made it out of Mississippi.
Fortunately King Kong was big enough, strong enough and primitive enough to get even with the masses. When pushed, he pushed back and kicked ass. Maybe if he had left the blonde alone on Skull Island things would have been different. Maybe if Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper would have had shotguns the end of Easy Rider might have been different. Maybe there would have been two rednecks dead and a pickup burning at the side of the road instead of a burning Harley Panhead chopper. Maybe, but I doubt it. The exceptional individual can’t be understood or trusted and must lose against the mob.
Do you ride a motorcycle? Do people say they don’t understand you because you’ve made the decision of two wheels over four? Are you the rare stranger who comes to town uninvited, the thinker with whom no one agrees? If so, guard your individuality like a virgin guards her virtue.
Beware the minions of the darkness, beware the herd mentality, beware the group thought process, beware those who want you to follow the pack and sing in their choir. Beware… because they want you to join them in mediocrity or they will do to you what was done to King Kong.