Header

UZH-Logo

Maintenance Infos

Killing King Kong: The camera at the borders of the tropical island, 1767-1937


Riquet, Johannes (2014). Killing King Kong: The camera at the borders of the tropical island, 1767-1937. Nordlit : Tidsskrift i litteratur og kultur, 31:133-149.

Abstract

This paper discusses the role of the border of the island as a complex aesthetic zone in the journals of early European and American navigators in the South Seas (such as George Robertson, James Cook, Benjamin Morrell and Charles Wilkes) and in 1920s/1930s American films set on tropical islands. The fascination of the early explorers’ descriptions of islands as viewed from the water, across a distance that is physical as much as cultural, resides in the entanglement of perception, expectation and imagination that marks these journeys as both intense and profoundly uncertain visual experiences. In the 1920s, US-American representations of tropical islands gained new currency as American tourists trooped to the South Seas.
As I argue, the strong visuality of the early accounts is one of the reasons why cinema could so readily pick up on them. In films like White Shadows in the South Seas (1929) and The Hurricane (1937), the imaginative transformation in the gaze from the water is associated with the camera as it explores the island in lateral tracking shots. These films cast a critical look on contemporary Western enthusiasm for ‘exotic’ cultures and locations in which they nevertheless participate. Resonating with contemporary anthropological and documentary film practices, emphasizing authentic representation of native cultures (Malinowski and Flaherty, respectively), they nevertheless point to the camera’s own crossing of the island’s border as an act of appropriation.
This appropriation becomes explicit in King Kong (1933) as, armed with cameras and guns, the diegetic film crew violently crosses the borders of/on the island. Significantly, it is only after Kong’s death at the highest point of another island (Manhattan) and at another border, now between land and sky, that he fascinates the masses as an aesthetic spectacle. The film, then, meditates on the relations between border crossing, death and the production of aesthetics.

Abstract

This paper discusses the role of the border of the island as a complex aesthetic zone in the journals of early European and American navigators in the South Seas (such as George Robertson, James Cook, Benjamin Morrell and Charles Wilkes) and in 1920s/1930s American films set on tropical islands. The fascination of the early explorers’ descriptions of islands as viewed from the water, across a distance that is physical as much as cultural, resides in the entanglement of perception, expectation and imagination that marks these journeys as both intense and profoundly uncertain visual experiences. In the 1920s, US-American representations of tropical islands gained new currency as American tourists trooped to the South Seas.
As I argue, the strong visuality of the early accounts is one of the reasons why cinema could so readily pick up on them. In films like White Shadows in the South Seas (1929) and The Hurricane (1937), the imaginative transformation in the gaze from the water is associated with the camera as it explores the island in lateral tracking shots. These films cast a critical look on contemporary Western enthusiasm for ‘exotic’ cultures and locations in which they nevertheless participate. Resonating with contemporary anthropological and documentary film practices, emphasizing authentic representation of native cultures (Malinowski and Flaherty, respectively), they nevertheless point to the camera’s own crossing of the island’s border as an act of appropriation.
This appropriation becomes explicit in King Kong (1933) as, armed with cameras and guns, the diegetic film crew violently crosses the borders of/on the island. Significantly, it is only after Kong’s death at the highest point of another island (Manhattan) and at another border, now between land and sky, that he fascinates the masses as an aesthetic spectacle. The film, then, meditates on the relations between border crossing, death and the production of aesthetics.

Statistics

Downloads

100 downloads since deposited on 20 Feb 2015
50 downloads since 12 months
Detailed statistics

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:2014
Deposited On:20 Feb 2015 10:37
Last Modified:08 Dec 2017 11:34
Publisher:Universitetet i Tromsø
ISSN:0809-1668
Free access at:Official URL. An embargo period may apply.
Related URLs:http://septentrio.uit.no/index.php/nordlit/article/view/3060

Download

Download PDF  'Killing King Kong: The camera at the borders of the tropical island, 1767-1937'.
Preview
Content: Published Version
Filetype: PDF
Size: 890kB