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Tracking King Kong

A Hollywood Icon in World Culture

Cynthia Erb

Publication Year: 2009

In Tracking King Kong Cynthia Erb charts the cultural significance of the character of King Kong, from the early 1930s, when Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s classic film King Kong was first released, to Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake. Although King Kong has received much academic attention over the past twenty-five years, the bulk of these analyses deal with the film’s human characters rather than Kong himself. In this revised edition of an influential study, Erb argues that King Kong is a particular kind of cultural outsider who represents a cross-penetration of American notions of exoticism and monstrosity. Tracking King Kong considers problems such as race and gender in the King Kong tradition, as well as historical, international, and contemporary audience and fan responses to this classic film and its popular protagonist. Erb begins her examination of King Kong in the 1930s, when the original film was produced and released, extending through the 1970s, when the film and its hero reached the height of their cultural visibility in a remake by Dino De Laurentiis, and concluding with a look at Peter Jackson’s version in 2005. The book includes a detailed production history of the original 1933 film based on primary historical and archival sources; a genre study examining Kong’s relations to horror, jungle adventure, and travel documentary genres; an analysis of Kong’s influence on the Japanese film Godzilla; and a look at sequels, remakes, and spinoffs related to King Kong, such as Mighty Joe Young. Erb also analyzes Jackson’s remake of King Kong, to determine how and why Jackson revised the main character, casting him as a melancholy hero. The revised edition of Tracking King Kong updates a groundbreaking study of King Kong as the iconic character enters the twenty-first century. Scholars of film and television studies as well as general readers interested in film and popular culture will appreciate this significant volume.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Preface to the Second Edition

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pp. ix-xx

In the decade since this book first appeared, King Kong’s visibility in both academic and popular culture has increased considerably. New readings of the original King Kong (Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, 1933), such as those by Susan Buck-Morss and Merrill Schleier, reflect the growing interest in modernism that has characterized film and media studies, ...

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pp. 1-20

This book offers an extended analysis of King Kong, one of the best-known characters ever produced by the Hollywood cinema, and a figure repeatedly activated in art and mass culture, both in the United States and abroad. As I write this introduction, interest in the 1933 film King Kong, directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, ...

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1. A Showman’s Dream: The Production and Release of King Kong

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pp. 21-58

At least one of our national characteristics is illustrated in the RKO Radio production of King Kong which loomed over the audiences of both Radio City movie houses last week. It is a characteristic hard to define except that it is related to that sometimes magnificent passion for scale that foreigners have remarked in our building of hundred-story skyscrapers,

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2. Camera Adventure, Dangerous Contact: Documentaries and Genre Traditions behind King Kong

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pp. 59-120

Some of the more interesting recent work on film genres departs from a traditional notion of genre as a stable classification system divorced from contingency and historical change. Armed with new historical and cultural studies methods, scholars have increasingly approached genres as complex discursive systems comprising not only the films themselves, ...

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3. Monstrous Returns in the Postwar Context: Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla

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pp. 121-158

In one of the final scenes of A Summer Place (Delmer Daves, 1959), young lovers Molly (Sandra Dee) and Johnny (Troy Donahue) lie to their parents about going out to see King Kong, “one of those wonderful old horror numbers,” as Molly puts it. The proposed outing is a ruse, for the couple actually intends to venture out ...

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4. Gorilla Queen and Other Tales: Male Spectatorship and the King Kong Parodies

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pp. 159-208

Earlier chapters have been designed to map out the King Kong phenomenon by situating the original film and its spin-off s in a series of historical settings. Methods chosen for this reconstruction have been rather eclectic, with contexts reconstructed from industrial and mass media discourses, film genre cycles, ...

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5. King Kong’s Melancholy: A Reading of Peter Jackson’s King Kong

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pp. 209-250

In 1996, Peter Jackson was in early stages of production of a remake of King Kong for Universal Pictures when he experienced a series of setbacks: his “thrillomedy,” The Frighteners (1996), failed at the box office; two competing studios announced impending release of their own Kong-related features, Godzilla (Roland Emmerich, 1998) and Mighty Joe Young (Ron Underwood, 1998), ...

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pp. 251-256

Although the thrust of this book has been to chart out the reception history of King Kong, a motivating force guiding the project has been my own personal fascination with the unpredictable ways cinematic phenomena leave the space of the film and exhibition industries, to be taken up in surprising sectors of culture and everyday life. ...


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pp. 257-286


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pp. 287-288

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 289-300


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pp. 301-315

E-ISBN-13: 9780814337424
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814334300

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 15
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series
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OCLC Number: 847609587
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Tracking King Kong

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Subject Headings

  • King Kong (Motion picture : 1933).
  • King Kong films -- History and criticism.
  • King Kong (Fictitious character).
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