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Monday, December 19, 2005
On King Kong, the Empire State and the dynamism of the city. Peter Jackson's film has won high praise (with just the occasional dissenter - more reviews at Metacritic), and most people seem happy with the idea of the film as a straight re-make of the 1933 original. Naturally, the special effects are the prime draw, and Jackson has practically doubled the film's running time in order to take in all that visual wonder. The Kong is King site tracks the re-make's production history, with all the OTT behind-the-scenes stuff that you just know will be fleshing out a couple of DVDs come Christmas 2006.

The new version gives the Empire State model a bit of a makeover, one of some 90,000 buildings modelled to create the virtual New York of the 30s (2.8mb image, from the huge amount of visual information at The One Ring). Everything was recreated on computers and with traditional sets built in New Zealand (we like this improvised blue screen). Naturally, today's filmmakers have an advantage, in that the Empire State is available as a 3D model to anyone who wants it, an instant set that just has to be dressed up with authentic grime and haze.

The film makes the skyscraper's mid-town isolation pretty clear, standing practically alone in a sea of smaller buildings. The Empire State was built fast, the physical manifestation of all that the European modernists had fantasised about for the preceding decade. It became a natural symbol of the city - the building's official site has a movies page - even if the most ambitious part of the original plan, the airship mooring mast, was doomed to failure. 'Passengers would have to make their way down a stinging gangway, nearly a quarter mile in the air, onto a narrow open walkway near the top of the mast. After squeezing through a tight door, they would have to descend two steep ladders inside the mast before reaching the elevators.' The mast became a radio antenna instead.

Kong, which opened just two years after the new tower was complete, used the city's skyline in the classic Kong image (large), not to mention the various posters: 1949, 1976 and 2005. The Dino De Laurentis remake used the WTC instead of the Empire State, and the poster (with its magnificent hyperbole: 'The most exciting original motion picture event of all time' - our italics) nods to the latter, still standing tall in mid town. The very tip of the tower is, of course, central to the film's climax, the sharp end of modernism overcoming the beast. The moment is celebrated in form; you can now buy the desk sculpture (strangely different to this one, and this one - there seems to be some confusion about the precise detailing at the top, although not when you compare the original with Jackson's rendering of the NY skyline (via)).

But what struck us most about the remake was how the climactic dog fight adopted the visual language of Italian futurism, in particular the work of the 'Aeropainters' (an aesthetic we commented on a few months ago). The in-plane shots in particular recall Tullio Crali's amazing 'Nose Dive on the City'. Crali's imagery was about pure violence, the intersection of war machines and civilians, mediated by the harsh angles of the modern city. 'Nose Dive' was completed six years after Kong, and shares the film's fascination with modernity; both works revel in its essential superiority. Crali's later work was even more explicit about the aesthetic of death: 'Intercepting English Torpedo-planes' and 'Dive on the Airport', for example. While today's special effects makes these visual links even more obvious, the modern film plays more as a homage, rather than an advancement of the original's central idea - that the modern city is both the problem and the solution.

*

Other things. Stephen's weblog / some photos of beautiful trees by Squirmelia (nice image of Rachel Whiteread's Tate Modern installation too) / EverythingIHaveEver, scratch your way to a map of your possessions, via lowercase.

Google's Books site is also something we haven't had time to explore in depth. Rumour has it that there's a hack doing the rounds that removes the restrictions... / the bogus tribute to Douglas Coupland / London punk photos from the late 70s / another great before and after retouching expose / old cameras in 3D. Another opportunity to plug things 13, with its lovely 3D cover (and free glasses). Via Happy Palace / the Dragon's Den update.

A couple of grand gift ideas for 2006: LikeABike, and Automoblox / the German car blog / there's something very elegant about old computer game graphics: MSX Maps / the internet was made to purvey cute / The Pi Project, 3m 14s long songs that incorporate a portion of the code / you never hear about the Yowie, the Australian Bigfoot (also a candy and a band). Check Yowiehunters for more speculation.

We're in seasonal wind-down mode, in case you hadn't noticed. Posting will be intermittent between now and the new year, so we'll take the opportunity now to wish everyone a very merry Christmas.