Wednesday, November 21, 2012

King Kong (1976)

King Kong (1976)
seen on TV @ AMC

I only visited the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once. It was during college, and I'm fairly certain it was before the first time terrorists attacked it, in 1993. It was nothing particularly noteworthy. I was with friends, and I remember getting a touch of vertigo from looking down on Manhattan from the observation deck.

That first attack scared the crap out of my friend Becky at the time. Becky's from a tiny little town upstate, going to college in the city. While she doesn't project the image of a tough girl, neither is she a shrinking violet, but I remember that attack genuinely unnerving her, and this was before you-know-when. After she graduated, she went back upstate, and as far as I know, stayed there. I'd visit her several times, but I haven't seen her in a long time now. I think about her every now and then, though.

The Twin Towers, to me, used to be nothing more than another part of the New York landscape, like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. I certainly never hung out in that part of Manhattan much. I remember occasionally, during high school, visiting South Ferry, where the Staten Island Ferry runs - part and parcel of exploring the city on my own for the first time - mainly to watch the boats. Still, I never had much interest in seeing the WTC.

It took me many months to see the former site of the Twin Towers after they were destroyed. I was with Vija; I forget what we were doing that afternoon or why we were near Ground Zero, but she was the one who convinced me we should pay our respects, as it were, and as it turned out, it wasn't as painful as I was half-convinced it might be. Having her with me certainly helped. Not that I knew anyone who died that day, but, well, you understand.

I suppose substituting the Towers in place of the Empire State in the first King Kong remake must've seemed daring at the time. The Towers opened in 1973, and were the tallest buildings in the world at the time. The WTC site was home to a dense neighborhood of small businesses and residents, some of whom filed an injunction to oppose construction. They got as far as the US Supreme Court, but the Court refused to hear the case.

I first saw this version of King Kong on TV, before the original, and as I recall, it would play fairly frequently (NBC? I think it was NBC), which means I must've recorded it on our old Betamax VCR. (Go ahead, laugh, but we got a lotta mileage out of it!) It scared me! True, I was a kid, so this was easy to do, but I vividly recall being frightened by it. The scene that always stood out to me was the one where Kong stops the elevated train with his hand. The camera angle puts you right at the front of the moving train as you see Kong's hand reaching out! At the same time, even as a kid, I could hardly miss the sexual undertones of Kong's relationship with Jessica Lange (the waterfall scene is an especially salient example).

Looking at it again last week, on AMC, there were, naturally, some things I thought about that I never did before. For instance: where exactly in New York is the Kong show supposed to take place? A reporter states that they're east of Manhattan, so I figure they're either on RooseveIt Island or Randalls Island. I doubt it's the former, since that's a densely populated area (which also rules out the western edges of Queens and Brooklyn), so it should be the latter, which has a small stadium and more open space.

But here's the thing: after Kong busts loose and Jeff Bridges grabs Jessica Lange and runs, they get on an elevated train. Now, in Queens, there is an elevated train in that area, near the East River, but if they were able to reach it, they'd have to cross the Triborough Bridge first - unless they were already in Queens to begin with, which doesn't seem likely at all.

So it's gotta be Randalls Island. But if it is, why would Bridges and Lange go to Queens only to take a train back into Manhattan, when they can go directly there from Randalls? That's why it's called the Triborough bridge, after all. Nerdy? Yeah, but I hate it when they get the geography of New York wrong in the movies.

While watching Kong, it also occurred to me how much of its time it is. Bridges is rocking the beard, like many men were; Lange's character is into horoscopes, and most significantly, Grodin's bad guy character is an oil magnate. Kong was three years removed from the so-called "Yom Kippur War" in the Middle East, which led to the Arab oil embargo and a recession here in America. Cheesy as this movie is, making this change was a smart one. I have no doubt that the energy crisis was on many moviegoers' minds at the time.

While Peter Jackson's version is superior in many ways, I still have a soft spot for this one, mostly because I saw it as a kid and I remember how it made me feel.


  1. I really like Peter Jackson's version but I might give this one a try one of these days. I'm sure the lack of special effects would be fun to watch, ahah.

  2. Makeup king Rick Baker worked on this version, for what it's worth, and for what's essentially a guy in a monkey suit, it's not bad for the time.

  3. Great write up! I love this movie and I watched it as a kid when it was first released. I revisit it at least once a year. I've always held a soft spot for it as well even though some things may seem dated. I love the camp, the humor and Kong! John Barry's score rocked too. Thanks for the post.

  4. I forgot to mention John Barry's fine score; thanks for bringing it up.


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