My wife, my mom (who was up for the weekend) and I watched King Kong this weekend. It was a surprisingly good movie, with a number of contemporary themes. The first thing I was struck by was the shot of Times Square early in the film dominated by the Chevrolet logo. In movie advertising even in 1933. The more thematic note that I noticed was how meta-contextual the movie was, much like Michel Gondry’s Be Kind, Rewind it’s a movie about making movies. Early in the movie Kong’s protagonist Carl Denham complains that people say if his films had a romantic touch they’d double their gross. I was surprised at straightforward the dialogue and themes were in that regard.
The two things that dated the film were racial depictions and the special effects. The non-white characters are treated mercilessly. The Chinaman on the boat wasn’t played by an Asian actor and his accent is absurd. The native villagers on Kong’s island aren’t treated any better. The special effects are as laughable in their own way. The fur on King Kong’s body moves continually from being touched by the modelers. The full size version of his face is comical, and the fact that none of the characters can’t even appear to interact with any of the beasts unless they’re stop-motion animated themselves makes Clash of the Titans look positively cutting edge.
There was one thing that really impressed me about the special effects though, and that was the cognitive leap that it took to put those beasts on the screen. I know that I’m stretching things when I compare the makers of King Kong to the artists of the Renaissance, but I don’t think it’s entirely inappropriate. What both parties did was revolutionize the conception of proportion. Renaissance artists captured realistic horizons and added illusory distance to what is literally a flat board. Early special effects gurus, whose names I am sadly ignorant of, realized that their own flat board, in this case a screen, could fool the eye in other ways that merely showing motion where there was none. They realized that the movie audience has no objective sense of proportion within the frame of the film, and that the screen could be exploited to make very small things appear large if they were filmed very closely. Thus was born Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.
It seems obvious now, the use of a camera on toys to make things look large. I also realize there are a number of technical hurdles that had to be overcome in order to make even the rudimentary special effects of King Kong the least bit believable, but I think that basic cognitive leap isn’t as easy at it seems looking back on it, and I think the people who made the leap and then made the movie absolutely obliterated the boundaries of what was possible in film because of it.
The next day the three of us went to Costco and I was reminded again of the power of proportion. I hadn’t been to a Costco in years, since it was called Price Club, actually. I was SO excited to go. Not for the samples (I didn’t have one the entire time I was there), but just to experience the gigantic warehouse of everything. I’ll tell you that normally I’m overwhelmed by variety. One of the few things in life that threatens me with a nervous breakdown is the bead store. I don’t mean one specific bead store, I mean every bead store on the planet. I don’t even know how there can be bead stores. How can you fill a whole store with absolutely minuscule beads? All different materials, colors, shapes and sizes? What happens when they end up in the wrong box? How in the world do you know where it goes? How can I ever know which bead is the right one when I can’t even SEE all of the beads, even if I worked at it eight hours a day for a month. I just couldn’t! It’s freaking me out just writing about it.
So why am I not freaked out by Costco, whose giant warehouse is crawling with people (the Costco in Richmond is a study in diversity. I heard at least three non-English languages there) and so full of different things that I could never, ever see them all, even if you gave me a month of Sundays, and even then it wouldn’t ever work because by the time I got done counting, everything behind me would have changed because people would have bought it all and they would have brought in more? I think the answer is proportion. Costco, for me, is like being in a bead store where I’ve been shrunk to the size of the beads. The size of the store is proportionate to the amount of material it contains. There is a harmony between what they sell and how they present it. The bead store to me is a study in disproportion. How in the world can these tiny cramped stores sell thousands of varieties of beads and expect to stay in business? Bead stores are a public menace. I bet mental illness would disappear if we stopped selling beads as a society. Probably poverty too.
Costco, on the other hand, is a wonderful place, full of surprises and affordable quality goods. It takes a lot of discipline to shop there. We dropped $200 dollars without even trying. On the other hand, we won’t have to buy toilet cleaner for three years, so that’s taken care of. That might be another reason that I like shopping at Costco; it makes me feel safe. I don’t have to worry about running out. Where at the bead store I don’t feel like I’ll ever be able to make a decision, because it’s JUST NOT POSSIBLE to look at every bead, at Costco I can go in knowing what I need and have that need taken care of for a LONG time, which makes me feel assured. Costco helps me feel like I’m not constantly in need of things and that once I take care of it there, it’s really taken care of and my attention can be positively focused on other things, like plotting the downfall of bead stores everywhere.