The eighth wonder of the world, plus teenagers; movies and TV viewed

Rewatching KING KONG (1933) for the first time in more than 20 years (a digitally cleaned up DVD print including and the infamous censored scenes), it hit me afresh was an amazing movie it is (TYG was quite impressed too).

Part of what makes it great is that it takes its time; despite being half the length of Jackson’s 21st century remake, it’s very leisurely about setting up its characters and premise, not getting to Skull Island until halfway through. We open with Denham (Robert Armstrong) explaining that before he leaves NYC to start work on his new film he has to find a female lead; his previous films have been “swell” but the distributors and theater owners keep complaining that there’s no love interest. This time he’s going to find one. When Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) passes out in a breadline, Denham buys her dinner and pitches her on signing up (he assures her there’s no casting couch involved). On the voyage to Skull Island, Ann and crewman Jack (Bruce Cabot) fall for each other, which of course amps up the tension when the local savages kidnap her as the bride of — Kong!

I’m guessing you probably know the rest of the story; I do, but it’s still amazing to watch. That the cast shows no sympathy for Kong (in contrast to the two remakes) only makes it stronger — by the end of the film, who isn’t rooting for the big ape to get away somehow. And the ending on top of the Empire State Building remains one of the iconic screen moments, one I recognized years before I saw the film (the 1976 film’s decision to use the World Trade Center was just dumbass). Imitated and remade, but never matched. “We came here to get a moving picture — and we found something worth more than all the movies in the world!”

I loved the 1982-3 TV series SQUARE PEGS so when I found a cheap DVD on sale at the library, I snapped it up. The premise is that Weemawee High School freshmen Patty and Lauren (Sarah Jessica Parker — yes, later of Sex and the City — and Amy Linker) are determined to become popular and get in with the cool kids; the cool kids aren’t having it, so the girls wind up hanging out with New Wave space cadet Johnny Slash (Merritt Butrick) and smart ass would-be funny guy Marshall (John Femia). It’s a simple premise but with a capable cast to act it out, it works well.

The series is very much a 1980s time capsule: The Waitresses provide the theme song, Devo, Father Guido Sarducci and Bill Murray guest-star and there are plenty of references to other pop-culture notes of the era. Along with the New Wave guy we have preppy Muffy Tepperman (Jamie Gertz) and Valley Girl Jennifer (Tracy Nelson). It’s also a product of its time in having no gay characters and a black character — Jennifer’s BFF LaDonna (Claudette Wells) who rarely gets more characterization than Sassy Black Friend. And Weemawee’s use of Native American iconography for sports and such is more eye-raising now than it was at the time.

What I really like about the show on rewatching — other than that it’s still funny — is that the high school dynamic doesn’t follow the usual tropes. A typical TV/movie high school (this is a subjective impression — I haven’t attempted a deep analysis) has the Cool Kids going out of their way to torment the protagonists; even without the torment the protagonists are miserable because they’re outcasts and so life isn’t worth living. Here Muffy, Jennifer and the others (who aren’t a united clique — Jennifer and LaDonna can’t stand Muffy either) mostly just ignore Patty and Lauren; it’s the girls’ determination to crack the clique that gets them in trouble. And with Marshall and Johnny, they have a good social circle, they just don’t see it. Well, mostly Lauren doesn’t see it; Patty often seems on the brink of asking why on Earth they want to hang out with Jennifer anyway. It’s available streaming (as well as a less bare-bones DVD set) so if you get the urge … “You said you’d guard this with your life — and you’re still alive!” #SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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