December 07, 2008

I'm King Kong!: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper (2005)

A lot has been written about "King Kong", the legendary 1933 movie about a giant gorilla and its adventure in the urban jungle that is New York, as there is no doubt that this classic masterpiece, directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, was a truly important movie in the filed of special effects, as well as in the development of the horror and adventure genres. However, the lives of the people behind this monumental movie are probably as interesting and outstanding as the movie itself, specially when talking about Merian C. Cooper, a man who not only created one of the most powerful stories ever told in a movie, but also was a brave pilot, decorated soldier, successful film producer, pioneer of film-making technologies and most importantly, an all around adventurer. "I'm King Kong", is a documentary about the life and times of Merian C. Cooper, a man who definitely was one of the most outstanding persons in the history of film.

Narrated by Alec Baldwin, the movie deals extensively with the adventurous nature of this man, taking us from his early days at the National Guard, to his years as a bomber pilot during World War I; and later it explores his friendship with Ernest B. Schoedsack, the man who according to Cooper, "taught him everything about film-making". Of course, it also dedicates time to the filming of "King Kong", the movie that would make their names legendary in the history of cinema, however, the focus is more on the man han on the film (as the making of "King Kong" is material enough for another documentary). Using clips from his several movies, the movie brings back many memories of the duo's other classic films like 1932's "The Most Dangerous Game", and it also includes interviews with historians, intellectuals and people who actually met Cooper, like Fay Wray and Ray Harryhausen. "I'm King Kong" even includes several audio clips from archived interviews with Cooper and Schoedsack themselves.

What makes this documentary interesting, is that it is not only based around the making of "King Kong", but instead it covers the Merian C. Cooper's life since he was born in Jacksonville, Florida, until his final days as a film producer in California. Directors Christopher Bird and Kevin Brownlow did a great job in condensing the most important of the many achievements and adventures of Merian C. Cooper. As usual in this kind of movies, it is in the interview section where the most interesting and informative comments appear, and this movie doesn't disappoint, as a through anecdotes and stories we get to know a bit more of the persona of this legendary man. The movie even dedicates a segment to explore how Cooper and Schoedsack met Willis O'Brien, the man behind the outstanding special effects of "King Kong", as well as exploring a bit the process of making them, as explained by O'Brien's alumni Ray Harryhausen.

It is clear watching this movie that directors Christopher Bird and Kevin Brownlow did an enormous research on the subject, as they manage to show clips from almost every film done by Cooper and Schoedsack (from their silent documentaries to their adventure films with sound), and not only that, fortunately many of the prints shown are of excellent quality. There are also many clips from the movies produced by Cooper later in his career, exploring his influence over the works of RKO Pictures (when he was the president), his partnership with John Ford (Cooper produced many of Ford's best and most famous films), and specially, his important position in the development of new technologies (mainly Cinerama). Finally, the opportunity to listen to audio recordings done by Cooper and Schoedsack themselves is another of the reasons that make this documentary a must-see for every fan of this period of the history of cinema.

If the movie has any flaw, it must be the fact that the list of achievements in Cooper's life was so extensive to be properly explored in the 57 minutes that this movie lasts. Proficient pilot, prisoner of war during World War I, adventurer in Poland and filmmaker in the U.S., influential producer and once again to war as commander of the "Flying Tigers" during World War II; there is simply too much to cover in the life of this man that it would take several movies to properly cover his many adventures. Despite this flaw, "I'm King Kong!: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper" is an extremely detailed documentary that manages to give a nice idea of how was this notable man's life.


Buy "I'm King Kong!: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper" (2005)


cinemarchaeologist said...

This was quite a fun little movie, but I agree it was an essentially cursory look at what is really a much larger subject. A basic primer on Cooper and his life that could have used another hour.

Kevin Brownlow, who put this together, is a walking encyclopedia on the early cinema--easily the most important historian of the silent era, among other things. Just about all of his other documentaries are highly recommended, CINEMA EUROPE and BUSTER KEATON: A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW being particularly good. Early cinema is disappearing--literally rotting away. If you want to understand what a tragedy this really is, read any one of Brownlow's books on it.


"The Dig"

BUDOKAN said...

Gran filme que nos descubre todo lo referente al gran simio. Saludos!