Although I don’t want to do this in any kind of chronological order, the original 1933 version of King Kong, directed and produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, absolutely blew my mind when I saw it on my parents black and white TV as a young child. It’s certainly one of the first movies I can remember seeing, so I’m guessing I was around four or five-years-old at the time.
Jesus – I’m going to sound fucking ancient here, but this was one of those films that would be shown once a year on television (I have no idea why). I think it goes without saying – after the first time, I would do my best to never miss it.
At first, I probably thought it was real, which only added to its appeal. A giant gorilla rampaging in NYC! Tossing around subway cars like toys! Crushing people underfoot! Ripping what looked like some kind of dinosaur’s head apart on Skull Island! Throwing men around like dolls! Seriously – I thought it was the coolest thing in the world and was one of my first experiences of the power of film.
Of course, at some point, I realized it wasn’t real – but that didn’t diminish my love for it; instead, I became even more fascinated. How was this possible? This would have been in the early 1960s, so it was almost 30 years old then, but its age gave it an even weirder sense of other-worldliness like it was some secret artifact from a time when these things really happened.
I could have given two shits about Faye Wray or any of the other people in the film for that matter. For me, it was all about Kong and the world he inhabited, whether on Skull Island or in NYC – both of which seemed pretty exotic. When I finally realized it was done with this thing called stop-motion animation, I became obsessed.
Willis O’Brien was responsible for creating this world, and the job he did with Kong was quite a magic trick – somehow, through his mastery and vision, he imbued the 18-inch rubber creature with a metal armature covered with something that looked like fur into a living thing that had emotions. The final sequence where the single-engine airplanes shot him down off the Empire State building was heartbreaking.
It was one of the first times I realized what assholes people could be.