Tuesday, December 1, 2009


the point i was trying to make in class today was this: facts alone are boring. straight, rigid, cold data is meaningless without the perspective of an expert or artist to help us know how (or maybe even why) to digest certain information. writers like Annie Dillard, Malcolm Gladwell, Natalie Angier, Jon Stewart, and all those folks at the Schoolhouse Rock have a boss way of looking at blank facts and asking the question, "what's the story here?" and the story these writers pull out of hard concrete data is nothing short of mesmerizing at times.

recently, i tipped my Hockey Mask to one such writer: Mary Roach. the literary tricks this woman performs with human cadavers are enough to make George Romero eat his own skin. not to mention the way she sent me to the bathroom with a mirror and flashlight to find my own clitoris. (it wasn't there, mind you.) nevertheless, these are examples i shy away from in my reading classes. you gotta be careful where you talk about your labia.

so as an example of life breathed into dead-knob data, i showed the trailer for THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (and i highly recommend watching the trailer immediately.)

for all purposes, based on sheer facts alone, this is the worst premise for a documentary film ever conceived. the bare-bone details declare:

- some dude named Billy Mitchell set a the world record score for Donkey Kong in 1982.
- that score went unchallenged for 20 years
- until a middle school science teacher named Steve Wiebe desired to excel at something: namely beating Mitchell's Donkey Kong score
- an arcade game database of official scores, Twin Galaxies, presided over the event and recorded the scores
- Billy Mitchell's Donkey Kong world record was beat twice by Steve Wiebe

again, there is nothing in this premise that should send us to netflix with our queues in flux; however, the story created by the cameras and by the careful eye of the filmmakers, transforms the worst possible documentary scenario into one helluva great movie.

THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS is not merely about video games and world record scores. it's a film about integrity. it's a film about strange obsessions. it's about the desire to succeed when every other attempt has failed. it's about a midlife crisis and a wife supporting her husband's need to see this one thing through. it's about the real life david brent, who needs to be put down like a gimp tongued family dog. and it's about a supporting cast of extremely awkward arcade fanatics.

THE KING OF KONG takes a depressing cache of facts and breathes a riveting narration of glorified geekdom into their gills. of course, just like Mary Roach writing about corpses and vaginas, these filmmakers hit the jackpot of jackasses with billy mitchell as a primary character. everytime this dude opens his mouth, i immediately cringed, even before he spoke a single word. and although the filmmakers never shied from their bias towards the underdog wiebe, the star of this film is billy mitchell's world record donkey kong sized ego. i'm already chomping at the bits for a sequel just so i can cringe at this guy some more.

i gladly give THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS 4.5 statue of liberty neckties out of 5. i can't think of a witty way to end this, so here's some free frogger.


John Barber said...

I've seen KOK and I agree with pretty much everything you've said except that the premise alone shouldn't get us flocking to see the flick. This is exactly the kind of movie that I flock (can one person flock?) to. Of course, I promptly ruined my viewing experience by trying to learn more of the story. It's not nearly as engaging when you have all of the boring details...

Erin said...

You had me at real life David Brent! And then you had me again at gimp tongued family dog. I would write more but I need to add this to my blockbuster queue ASAP. Sounds like a winner. This kind of freak focus is what makes niche documentaries so life-fulfilling!

myleswerntz said...

I loved this movie. Billy Mitchell is the epitome of the word "gimp".

the hamster said...

myles - that's all i wanted.