Lisa Clair’s The Making of King Kong, now playing at The Doxsee at Target Margin Theater thru December 15, is not a documentary about the 1933 horror/sfx classic or slick offsite pop-up for King Kong The Musical. For one thing, the only glimpses of the Brooklyn version of the “Eighth Wonder of the World!” who tore up Manhattan are of his giant (and very busy) paw and on video screens. The other is that none of the previous versions have a song remotely like “King Kong Plays Ping Pong With His Ding Dong”. That alone is reason to revisit Skull Island via Sunset Park. Another is that after perhaps enjoying a craft beer in the lobby, the curtains part and reveal how a converted warehouse can stand in for a movie palace.
Since Kong is an adventure story, The Making of King Kong has an enthusiastic part-storyteller/part-blu ray extra Narrator (Kevin R.Free). Following The Overture (Max Steiner’s original score is heard throughout), producer-director Merian C. Cooper (Ean Sheehy) comes up with the idea, bringing in co-director/cinematographer Ernest B. Schoedsack (Hanlon Smith-Dorsey) and star Faye Wray (Molly Pope). One of director Eugene Ma’s many fine touches is having the actors perform in front of a movie screen projecting the same scene/dialogue delightfully out-of-sync. Even better is rather than have the game Molly Pope scream herself hoarse, Fay Wray’s unforgettable shriek is a taped, amplified alarm.
From there with dialogue from the original screenplay for backup, Clair blurs the filmmakers with the film they are making. King Kong gained instant classic status because of how it looks and how the title character was always in charge whether scaling a rocky cliff or The Empire State Building. But accompanying those visuals are a lot of racism, violence, misogyny and human/animal sexual innuendo. The gleeful slaughter of animals by the film crew and Kong are condemned by the sensitive, love-struck Schoedsack and Fay Wray/Ann Darrow. Kudos for having Schoedsack quote from the previous film he made with Cooper and Wray, The Most Dangerous Game (also 1932 with its sets recycled for Kong), where the most dangerous beast is…man…meaning the male species.
And still in spite of his actions, The Making of King Kong sides with Kong. So does his leading lady and the audience.
King Kong is among way too many films that depicted indigenous people badly. The inspired solution here is eliminating the Skull Island tribe and replacing it with another, the White Yoga Ladies (Sauda Aziza Jackson, Youree Choi, Claire Fort). Native to urban landscapes (especially those in Brooklyn), these three are recognizably and humorously parodied. They sing the show-stopping “King Kong Plays With His Ding Dong” and follow-up elaborating on their sex ritual with Kong. The comic relief also has a serious side: For their permanent retreat, they “erased” the natives because they were “problematic” and “couldn’t afford” their island home. Could this be a metaphor for the Walt Disney Company erasing racist content from cartoons or Amazon’s successful Queens bid?
Running a little under and hour-and-half just as its source material does, The Making of King Kong is an enjoyable look at an iconic movie. It also asks and answers some of the many questions the film raises without Hollywood or Broadway pretensions.
The Making of King Kong opened on November 29, 2018 and runs thru December 15 at The Doxsee at Target Margin Theater (232 52nd Street, Sunset Park, Brooklyn). Tickets are available on the Target Margin website.