Saturday, January 14, 2006

Helluva Gorilla

Danny Alexander writes (with thanks to David Davis):

Seeing King Kong for the third time, weeks later, is the best experience. Peter Jackson's really not to be underestimated. I've been a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke for a long time, but I've been particularly into catching some of his movies I hadn't seen before on TCM the past couple of weeks, and I just realized on this viewing how much a debt Jackson owes to him.

It's that sort of a movie, deeply textured, giving up more with each viewing--just as the Lord of the Rings movies did, and the Asian influences are so obvious to me now, and the way they are in dialogue with western cinema. There are plenty of scenes that seem like they're straight out of Peckinpah but with the magic realism of Woo (or Miyazaki). And it all makes sense because, as much as anything, Kong is a movie about movie making--from its premise to the central theme of beauty vs barbarism (vs capitalism the way I see it).

Some of the final shots at the top of the Empire State Building hearken back to Hitchcock, particularly Saboteur and Vertigo, including Naomi Watts standing in what may as well be Jimmy Stewart's stance at the end of Vertigo.

And that's an intriguing connection for me because Vertigo became one of my favorite movies around the same time I fell in love with Princess Mononoke, during a dark time for me when these rich, violent, yet musical movies were among the few things speaking to me (watched like every Hitchcock movie over just a handful of months, some twice--there's some obscurities I still haven't seen, but they're truly obscure). Anyway, I fell in love with Vertigo probably the fourth time I'd seen it all the way through in my life. Thought it was a little slow before that, maybe pretentious, but on this fourth viewing, in this very dark state of mind, I suddenly felt every nuance of the movie was earth shatteringly precise.

It seems to me that Jackson is at his best working with the possibilities of the medium as it’s changing--from a one time cinema event, into a repeated home viewing experience, giving up layers and layers of meaning with each viewing. And it occurs to me that this is as difficult to talk about as music can be to talk about because it's not simply what's in the screenplay--it's the music of the images as well as the soundtrack and the music of the sound effects, the color, light and shadow and texture, the visual composition.
I know these are not new concerns in the discussion of film, but they are in the DVD or digital era, when the theater has more or less become simply an introduction to an experience that will be oft-repeated at home. Jackson flipped that script with the way he handled the Rings trilogy from day one, and I think Kong reflects the way he's continuing to synthesize the new possibilities of the form. I find it really exciting.