Sunday 2 June 2013

Life Apeing Art - King Kong and Dian Fossey's Gorillas

The tribes of the Omo Valley may measure their time by Omo-clock, a string with knots tied to indicate the number of sunsets before a gathering or ceremony, but last night we were measuring time by gorilla moments. Down in Melbourne for an Emergency Medicine conference, we took the opportunity to rendezvous at the Regent theatre with some great friends we’d made traipsing around Vietnam earlier in the year at the preview showing of the much anticipated production of King Kong.
The star of the show an incredible roboticised ’40-foot’ gorilla manipulated by a dozen black ninja clad puppeteers. Kongs facial expressions were stunningly realistic and I was happy to note the sniffing, grunting and roaring sounds emanating from him were more reminiscent of Dian Fosseys’ Digit than the manipulated recordings of zoo lion roars used in the original ’33 film. Maximum kudos however goes to the special effects costuming of the voodoo natives of Skull Island – incredible shimmering vibrating costumes that actually made me wonder whether they were real or holographic projections. I’m assuming they were made with LED lights inside the costumes but whatever the construct it was mind altering – no drugs needed!
 Except for the rather abrupt ending that failed to ring the final tear from the entire house that it potentially could of (though as usual Occy was NOT dry-eyed), the story line of the show stuck  fairly well to the original 1933 film script and even honoured the original ‘pre-code’ style of the original film.  Pre-Code Hollywood is that time in film history between sound in the late 1920s and the enforcement of the ‘Code’ (censorship guidelines) to films after 1934. If you think Pulp Fiction was a sign of ‘the degeneration of film’ into violence, illicit drug use and profanity you can think again. Films made during the pre-code time were characterised by violence, illicit drug use, profanity, promiscuity, sexual innuendo, prostitution, abortion and homosexuality. (Surprisingly strong women dominated films in this pre women's lib era). After the ‘Code’ many scenes were deleted and the film re-released. These scenes included
  • A Brontosaurus eating crewmen in the water, chasing one up a tree and eating him (which is inaccurate since it is a herbivorous dinosaur);
  • Kong undressing Ann Darrow and sniffing his fingers;
  • Kong biting and stepping on natives when he attacks the village;
  • Kong biting a reporter in New York;
  • Kong mistaking a sleeping woman for Ann and dropping her to her death after realising his mistake.
Some of these were faithfully put back into the theatre production, most notably Kong dropping the woman he mistakes for Ann with a squishy ‘splat’.  Hopefully the only ‘splatting’ that will be going on when we trek to see the real life characters in  life ‘apeing’ art in the form of Dian Fosseys’ gorillas at the end of the year in deepest, darkest Africa will be those pesky Tsetse flies. I will think of the King Kong production in Melbourne and reflect on the real life love affair of one woman for a gorilla.

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