“Glass Cages” – (to view large, click HERE)
This idea has been floating around in my head for a long time. And if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to take a minute to talk about how one of my favorite films inspired it.
Of all the listed genres of film, “Adventure” movies are my absolute favorite. As a teen my walls were papered with National Geographic pictures, and when I was in high school, I wrote to them asking how I could be a filmmaker for the society. Later, I ended up working 10 years at the American Museum of Natural History, over half of that time in the Archaeology Department. There is something about the unknown world and its infinite possibility, what has yet to be discovered that I can’t get enough of.
I think, too, this is why I enjoy early films so much. Anything created from the invention of cinema through the 1930’s is a wonderful exercise in experimentation. Directors were anything but timid, often taking on the biggest stories: Frankenstein, Shakespeare, Jules Verne (the first underwater photography was done in 1913!!), and I recently found a one hour silent-film version of Dante’s “Inferno”.
It opens with an Arabic proverb, “And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead.”
This is a story about one’s changing nature, and the impetus that causes it. In relation to Kong, they put that responsibility on Anne Darrow (“Twas Beauty killed the Beast”). In relation to the other characters, it starts with the ship’s adventure, daring to go into the unknown and then having to deal with what you find.
But despite all they encounter, the human characters are pretty much one note – the naive girl, the selfish movie director, the dashing hero – and for the most part stay that way. Instead, it’s Kong who makes the emotional shift.
He takes good care of Anne. He fends off every beast that comes after her on Skull Island, and most important decides not to eat her. He takes better care of her, than the humans do of him once he’s brought back to New York. There, Denham remains his fame-hungry self and puts Kong on display in chains.
“Once a king, a god of sorts, now a mere captive. A show – to satisfy your curiosity.” – Denham introducing the “8th Wonder of the World”. It’s rather despicable really.
In the 1933 version, Kong is the best-drawn character. His temperament is really not so simple. He calms his beast-like nature to discover something new. Not to fear it, but to treasure it. After Anne disappears from his cave he breaks through the Skull Island wall into the unknown to find her. It’s more than possession, it’s curiosity, and care- and something letting go inside.
At the end, far from home, being assaulted by war planes, when his bullet-ridden body is struggling to stay atop the Empire State Building, he picks Anne up one last time to look at her. Then carefully sets her down and falls. He never had any intention of harming her. In effect, he does what the audience wants, what our own multilayered natures would have us do.
Cooper’s version seems to play on the idea that Kong’s curiosity was a weakness – it’s what got him captured and killed. To me, it was a sign of fearlessness. That the greatest adventure is within.
And the photo above illustrates just that. What part of yourself are you looking in on? Are you the beast, the beauty or the bird? What cage are you in? It’s an endless Escher-like loop, but one worth the question.
For my friend Sue, who has always shared my love of the flapper era and the adventurous spirit that goes with it, I’m dedicating this photo.
**All photo elements are mine, except the gorilla, which is a royalty free shot.