Friday, August 16, 2013

Urban Bestiary (3)

New York, August 16, 2013

One would associate dragons, griffins and other mythical beasts to antiquity or the middle ages, not  to the modern city.  But I am, coming to New York and suddenly it flashed through my mind: King Kong.

Fittingly, the year is 1933 and King Kong appears in a movie rather than in an illuminated manuscript.  Otherwise it has all the traits of the legendary tale, from the beast, a giant prehistoric ape, all the way to the blond Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) as the sacrificial maiden.  Kong's origin is remote and obscure: the jungles of a lost island in the Indonesian archipelago.  He is brought to another, very different island, Manhattan, to be displayed on Broadway as a form of entertainment.  The plot includes a number of elements associated with new technologies, such as the flashbulbs that startle the beast and the airplanes from where he's shot at the end.  But more than anything else, the confrontation is between the giant animal and the great metropolis, culminating in the scene atop of the skyscraper (construction of the Empire State Building had just been completed in 1931) where finally the heroine is rescued and the city is safe again.  If not the story of a mythical foundation, at least a tale of rebirth, an affirmation of modernity against the threat of the unknown.

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