Are You Not Entertained?

How many times a day do you seek to be entertained? It is elusive. It is dangerous. The rush of stimulus bombards us. The mob mentality of pop culture is easily distracting and much is nonsense. Yet, I love music and books and movies and have no intention of stopping my search for fine entertainment. Here continues a monthly series of the entertainment that has occupied my time, for better or worse.

MUSIC 

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Former member Don Felder, who complained about his place in the hierarchy as an Eagle, including this documentary from 2013 in which he co-starred, was a constant thorn in the side of Glenn Frey, but that’s only one element of the long, complicated marriage, divorce, and reconciliation of the 1970s band, The Eagles, explained by everyone in the band. The birth of classic rock stations erupted to carry their songs forward after The Eagles disbanded in 1980, and when they reunited in 1994 for their Hell Freezes Over tour, fans were ecstatic. Even if you don’t care for their harmonies or musicianship (Really?), I find it hard to think about the 1970s without them. In the 1980s, Glenn Frey and Don Henley pursued single careers, but I respect their work more as group members of The Eagles whose success and influence in the history of Rock and Roll are undeniable. We’ve all heard “Hotel California” probably 300 times, but when I’m alone in my car with the windows down, and the sun is thinking about setting, the guitar harmonies of Joe Walsh and Felder still resonate and transport me back to the pleasure and pain of younger days. I highly recommend it for those who know little about them, forgot a little, or have loved them for decades. RIP Glenn. What a collection of beloved celebrities who have passed in 2016!  5/5.

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As an American history buff, I love social history, so what could be more fun than looking at our great-grandparents values and feelings through the lens of music? Therefore, The Winding Stream: The Carters, The Cashes and the Course of Country Music captured my imagination. Many are aware that Rock and Roll has been heavily influenced by Gospel and Country, which fused the chords and set the seeds to influence future giants like Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and a host of British invaders who appreciated the musicianship and heartfelt songs. I can’t say I’m a big country music fan, but I respect its place, its singers, and I admire the pluck of “Big Daddy” Brinkley who created a national audience from a “border town of Del Rio, Texas, (and) set up a new radio station across the river in Mexico. With 500 kilowatts of broadcasting power, XERA was ten times as powerful as the biggest American stations, which were forced to live within the federal ceiling of 50 kilowatts. Its signal easily reached all forty-eight states, not to mention much of Canada, and within a few years spawned a slew of copycat border stations.” Read more about the Carter Family and XERA found here:  PBS.ORG, THE CARTER FAMILY

Or, rent and watch Beth Harrington‘s 2014 informative documentary.  4/5. 

Speaking of Documentaries…

People criticize the attention and profits made by the discovery of photographer, Vivian Maier. The questions raised in the 2014 documentary Finding Vivian Maier cannot compete with the woman and her captivating photography. There is a mystery surrounding this nanny-recluse who played a life-long game as a secret observer of people and treasure hoarder. When she died in 2009, obscure and alone in Chicago, director John Maloof and Charlie Siskel pulled the threads and discovered an amazing story about this 20th Century version of Emily Dickinson. Both were shy, atypical, prolific artists caught in the moment of creating poems and pictures than selling themselves. Posthumously, their art soared in popularity. In Vivian’s case, right or wrong, her work is admired around the world. It’s the complexity of Vivian that makes the documentary compelling. I disliked the directors filming themselves in the narrative. Their inclusion was offputting. The people who employed her and the children she nannied have warm as well as alarming stories that create a haunting portrayal of a very talented woman who was fiercely independent and bizarre. Would she mind the hoopla surrounding her work? She lives through her work as a ghost, garnering admiration without intimacy, and somehow I think she would like that.  4.5/5 

Check out her photography at http://www.vivianmaier.com

BOOKS 

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David McCullough‘s easy style is graceful, well-researched, and entertaining. He’s my go-to historian regarding all things U.S. History. The Wright Brothers(2015) continues Professor McCullough’s elite reputation for portraying the human side of famous Americans. Orville and Wilbur are two boys from Ohio who are armchair scholars and possessed a drive to achieve flight. Their family helped shape them. Their father was a minister and their sister a Latin teacher. They shared the same house, and they shared the trait of inquisitiveness. All were all productive and supportive. It’s the Wright Brothers who attain the fame and the patents. Their trials at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, surviving mosquito swarms, and wind storms while they practiced their contraptions was my favorite section. Once they flew, you would think the story was over. But their involvement with the French and the U.S. military adds depth to their plane story as it gave flight to the First World War. 4/5

TELEVISION 

Game of Thrones Seasons 1 – 4. 

(Spoilers) Now here’s  a guilty pleasure. I love the cinematography and the developed characters. I love the Magical Realism. Yay for Giants and three-eyed crows. Was I glad when Joffrey died? You bet. Was I troubled when Khaleesi frees the slaves only to chain up her dragons? Yep. Was I sad John Snow’s red-headed wildling died in battle? Yes!  If I had a broadsword would I stab Ramsey Bolton for torturing Theon? In a second. I will miss The Hound. Which character would I be in the series?  Gwendoline Christy’s Brienne of Tarth. I love everything about her.  Obviously, I’m hooked with the Medieval soap-opera which must find room to show a bum and boob in every episode. Thankfully, they have also included chunks of dialogue to develop the characters (i.e., brothers Jaime & Tyrion in the cell, bonding over the simpleton who beat the beetles). They all have good qualities and disgusting qualities which make them very human. Tyrion is an original character you don’t often get to see on television. His smarts and kindness and retribution are very interesting to watch. What’s there not to like? Probably the violence. And if you have something against boobs and buns. However, it’s more than a junior high video game. It’s wonderfully done with characters I care about and root for. Now on to season 5. Don’t tell me what happens. 4.5/5  

Beryl Markham (1902-1986)

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Getting to know British pioneer aviator, Beryl Markham, came about in a roundabout way. The first instance came this summer when I was attracted to the cover and bought a copy of Paula McLain’s 2016 best seller, Circling the Sun. Blending fact with fiction, her prose aroused the stunning setting of 1920s Kenya with authenticity.

Do you recommend 'The Paris Wife'?
Do you recommend ‘The Paris Wife’?

As I read the novel, I vaguely remembered it was based on a true person. About half way through the story, the life of Beryl Markham began to feel like an epic romance novel, something from Margaret Mitchell’s imagination, the heroine’s life too outlandish to believe. The ingredients included the British Royalty, Kenyan tribes, eccentric personalities and their parties, horse breeders, big game hunting, love triangles, Beryl’s swinging passions between horses, men, and aviation. Include other associations such as coffee-plantation owner Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke whose memoir Out of Africa(1937) inspired me long ago. It followed with the film adaptation in 1985 starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford–still one of the best films of that decade. After reading Circling the Sun, I itched to read Beryl Markham’s memoir; a colleague passed along her copy to me three years ago. West with the Night was one of those books I knew I needed to read, but it collected dust on my bookshelf instead.

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West with the Night, published in 1942 did not do well at first publication. Thanks in part to Ernest Hemingway, his praise for her writing precipitated the second publication forty years later with success. She was four when her family moved to Kenya from Britain. Raised by her father, she learned to ride and train horses and became the first licensed female to train horses in Kenya. In the 1920s, her relationship with the dashing Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford’s character in Out of the Africa) inspired her into aviation. In 1936, she became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east (Abingdon, England) to west (Nova Scotia).

Over the years, critics have raised doubts whether her beautiful prose was an original effort or perhaps shaped in part with her third husband, Raoul Schumacher. Regardless of the controversy, I’d like to think the descriptions and tales of Africa–the animals, the horses, and the people, like her wise childhood friend, Kibbi were expressed by her. Here is a hefty sentence, a sampling of her writing from West with the Night (160):

The shores of its lake are rich in silence, lonely with it, but the monotonous flats of sand and mud that circle the shallow water are relieved of dullness, not by only an occasional bird or flock of birds or by a hundred birds; as long as the day lasts Nakuru is no lake at all, but a crucible of pink and crimson fire–each of its flames, its million flames, struck from the wings of a flamingo. 

I remember in the film Out of Africa, the birds played a symbolic role romanticizing the beauty of Kenya. In Paula McClain’s novel, she includes this scene of flamingos, and the imagery stands out. I recommend all of it: Paula McClain’s Circling the Sun; Beryl Merkham’s West with the Night; Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you watch the film version. These leading women were fierce individualists and trailblazers.

Here’s an interesting article with Paula McClain about Circling the Sun. You can read it  HERE.

One of my favorite scenes from the film Out of Africa. It’s no wonder Beryl loved to fly. Ahh, that score by John Barry!

Zane Grey

Social Icons
Social Icons

Zane Grey (1872-1939). Known as the father of the Western novel, his prolific career included 64 books and several magazine articles. 130 films are credited from his books.

 

Wild Arizona, Devil’s Bridge, Sedona

Check out the Zane Grey’s West Society for fascinating articles and facts about him. In his stories, Grey described the grandeur of the South West that evoked a desire to visit and a need to protect the vanishing frontier. His heroes were flawed and troubled. He honored the Native American instead of portraying him as a savage. His women were virtuous, strong, and spellbinding. The violence and action of the gun fight were secondary to the enchanted topography Grey conveyed with love. His popular novels contributed to the collective consciousness of the myth of the West well into the 20th century. Silent films capitalized on Grey’s novels. Of the 130 films adapted from Grey’s books; a third of the filming locations occurred in Arizona.

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Mexican Hat, Utah 

The Western genre in film originates with Zane Grey. His influence spilled into radio shows and television. His film adaptations provided the impetus for many careers including: Shirley Temple, John Wayne, Tom Mix, Randolph Scott, and Alan Ladd. Probably the most famous novel by Zane Grey is Riders of the Purple Sage. Do you have a favorite? 

I have been scanning silent films trying to find the perfect late 1920s film to thread the theme of the cinema in “Inside the Gold-Plated Pistol”. I’ve decided on the 1925 William K. Howard lost film, The Thundering Herd. 

Gary Cooper
Gary Cooper

Besides Jack Holt, Lois Wilson, Noah Beery, Sr., and Raymond Hatton,  it’s Gary Cooper’s first appearance in film. The Thundering Herd is about a trader who uncovers a scheme to blame the Indians for a Buffalo massacre. Director William Howard remakes the film again in 1933 and stars Randolph Scott.

Zane Grey’s influence abounds in far-reaching ways. While synonymous with the arid, desert landscape, his passion is for deep-sea fishing. He owned patents on fishing lures and held eleven world records in deep-sea fishing. His letters to friend Ernest Hemingway links Grey’s attempts to conquer the Marlin to Hemingway’s inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea.  Zane Grey is alive today when citizens attend schools, subdivisions, and roads named after him.

I watched an old episode of M*A*S*H the other afternoon and Colonel Potter was eagerly trying to finish his latest Zane Grey novel about a noble cowboy and his relationships with nature, Indians, and a saucy female protagonist.  Zane Grey loved the Mogollon Rim by Payson, Arizona. I’ve camped there and I understand its appeal. I’m looking forward to a weekend getaway to the Eastern section of the Rim in a couple weeks. I can’t think of a better site to work on the novel.

Mogollon Rim (Muggy-on)
Mogollon Rim (Muggy-on)

 

The Lucky 13 Film Club: 1930s British Female Protagonists

 

WELCOME to the discussion this month as we feature three period films set in 1930s Britain. They share comedic elements, great costumes, and illustrate the economic relationship between the classes. Thanks to my friend Ruth at FLIXCHATTER, who agreed to co-host.
Ruth’s observations 
It seems that I have a fascination with the English class system and films/series about the upper crust world of nobility and their servants are in vogue again thanks to Downton Abbey. But perhaps there’s always an interest in such topic, as Upstairs/Downstairs series was popular in the 70s and remade again in 2010. Gosford Park is one of the most famous cinematic study of the class system in the 1930s, but with an Agatha Christie mystery thrown in. Julian Fellowes (the mastermind behind Downton Abbey) won an Oscar for Best Screenplay.
The cast alone makes it a MUST see for me, with the who’s who of British cinema: Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Clive Owen, etc.  It seems that no English class system story is ever complete without Maggie Smith as what else, an upper class snob of course. 
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The first time I saw this film over a decade ago, all of the class system stuff went over my head. I only remembered the costumes and set pieces, but this time around I focused more in the story and the relationships of the characters. The film is more about the servant/master relationship than an actual plot, so the murder mystery is more of a red herring plot device in the story. Over the course of a weekend, we watch the interaction between the upper and servants class, there’s really no real protagonists or villains, just people across class dynamics. It’s as if we, the audience is eavesdropping on a weekend gathering, as the film drifts into one conversation to the next. The most interesting character is that of Robert Parks (Clive Owen) who holds a big secret and came to work at Gosford Park with a certain agenda. 
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As for Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, the film is focused on a pair of servant and employer, Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand) and Miss Lafosse (Amy Adams). The very thing that separate them, the wide financial gap and class structure between them, is what also brings them together. Miss Pettigrew ends up becoming Lafosse’s confidante and personal friend which gave her access into the exclusive and private world of high society. The romance involving the two main characters also stretch across class and financial hierarchy, as one of Lafosse’s suitors is a penniless pianist (Lee Pace) and Miss Pettigrew is drawn by a successful fashion designer who’s in a tumultuous relationship with a snobbish fashion maven.
Besides the class structure theme and that it takes place in a short period of time, what these two films have in common is the beautiful 30s costumes and the fun use of 30s music. It also has two gorgeous actors in English accent singing at the piano: Jeremy Northam in Gosford Park and Lee Pace in Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. 
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Cindy’s thoughts 
Being Julia:
Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch) is the ingénue whose ambitions to become a star has her hopping from bed to bed like a crowned piece on a checkerboard. Her sneeze scene during rehearsals is masterful. So, too, is the underrated Juliet Stevenson as Evie, Julia’s personal everything–maid, confidant, and bouncer. Sir Michael Gambon is the deceased mentor-director-tyrant who follows Julia around like a Shakespearean ghost. He is the voice of reason and provides the Oscar Wilde wit. Wiser than his parents, pensive Tom Sturridge plays the son Roger, and Jeremy Irons is the dull husband who manages Julia’s temper tantrums.
Being Julia feels like a revived version of All About Eve (1950) combined with the absurdity of a Billy Wilder comedy. It is filled within the shell of a play-within-a play and mounded with a meringue of stock characters and clichés.  You’d be tempted to write off the film and declare it a muddled mess. I suggest it’s a well-acted farce. 
Roger to Julia: You have a performance for everybody. I don’t think you really exist.
Julia is the performer who never leaves the stage. Neither do many of the characters from the three films. Gosford Park, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and Being Julia represent women and men such as Henry Denton, the male ingénue in Gosford Park, or Tom Fennel from Being Julia who present a facade to their audience while hiding behind their insecurities or ambitions. Sex is their payment for protection or advancement.
What is important to performers like Delysia Lafosse (Amy Adams) is to maintain the semblance of Britishness. With Julia, her blue-collared background is a topic of gossip. Henry Denton is American practicing to be Scottish. Homeless Miss Pettigrew pretends to be a social secretary. The theme of appearance verses reality creates comical ironies via bad accents or class jumping. The luscious costumes worn in the three films function as armors of deceit and shape their personas. These characters bumbling through their deceptions are entertaining to watch. The annoying voices and melodramatic posing given by Annette Bening and Amy Adams are necessary. Playing foils, Frances McDormand and Kelly MacDonald give breath to their characters; they offer the normality to sustain the plot and provide comedic contrasts.
Since a misstep of impropriety had adverse economic effects, such as the situation Elsie (Emily Watson) discovered in Gosford Park when she spoke out of turn as a servant, with a culture devoted to behaving well or else, who didn’t wear a mask to hide their true selves? How ironic then, that sex, a most indelicate act for a non-married woman in the 1930s, for ingénues like Delysia Lafosse  or Avice Crichton, sex is a way to ensure power and economic freedom. For Julia, who attained stardom, she clings to her position and knows her desirability is the key to her success. For a young man like Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans) to desire her sexually, sex affirms Julia’s sense of identity. It might also explain why snobby Constance Trentham (Maggie Smith), sitting at the top of the British social class, finds actors and the entertainment industry disreputable. Of course, Constance is acting, too, for she is broke and her lifestyle is in peril. She’s too old to confirm her position by sexual means; she must rely on the compassion of her brother who administers her allowance. Begging in fur and jewels. Irony, indeed.
Sex plays a large role in the three films–what are your thoughts on it?  Which of the three films did you like the most?  Do you see any interesting revelations about culture? What do you think of the functionality of costumes or how contrasts and irony create wit?  0001-60259980

Lucky 13 Film Club February Topic

What a great cast, script, and costumes. Bravo, Robert Altman
What a great cast, script, and costumes. Bravo, Robert Altman

The Revenant sparked up many discussions on January the 13th. I thank everyone who stopped by to take part. What you missed it? No worries, check out the day’s conversation and add to the https://cindybruchman.com/2016/01/13/the-lucky-13-film-club-the-revenant/. Thank you, Tom at digitalshortbread, for co-hosting.

Annette Bening gives a fine performance. I love the stories of W. Somerset Maugham.
Annette Bening gives a fine performance. I love the stories of W. Somerset Maugham.

For February 13, the day before Valentine’s Day, I’ve invited my pal (She visited AZ and we met and hiked in the Red Rocks.) and the most congenial movie buff in the blogosphere, Ruth at flixchatter, to co-host February’s topic.  Have you thought about the comedic style of British films set in the 1930s that star female protagonists? Let’s look at three examples: Being Julia, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and Gosford Park. 

Frances McDormand and Amy Adams recreate the 1930s comedy.
Frances McDormand and Amy Adams recreate the 1930s comedy.
All you need do is revisit one or more of these British love stories. On the surface their plots are silly, but their themes are deep and Oscar Wilde’s influence abounds. They are visual feasts and fun to watch. I also like this period offering a glimpse of the two worlds of the rich and poor before WWII.
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Do you see a connection? Join us on February 13 and let’s talk about it. 

King Kong

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King Kong is in the public domain and a cherished icon. When the film first appeared in 1933, Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion effects were revolutionary. Is it possible for audiences today to feel the magic of the film experienced by a society that watched mesmerized, a society that paid a quarter to escape the Great Depression for a while?  Plots where beasts or beastly men attack the young and virtuous were popular then as of today. Men conquering foes and possessing their women have been retold throughout the ages. For 80 years, who could resist watching a giant gorilla swinging around the tip of the Empire State Building batting away planes trying to save himself and protect/reclaim Ann Darrow? There’s a charm to the beauty and the beast story. In the 1933 film version, Ann needs saving. Military planes and Driscoll save her from the beast. In the 1976 and 2005 versions, anthropomorphic changes emphasize human characteristics within the animal. Kong falls in love with Ann, and she learns to care for Kong; he evolves to cave man. Our empathy extends to the anti-hero who wins the heart of the girl and dies because of beauty. Either version, women aren’t portrayed in a favorable way. They are fragile toys, or they cause the death of the anti-hero. Anyway, filmmaker Merian Cooper conceived the character in 1933 after an Edgar Wallace draft; I’ve often wondered how inspired Cooper was by the 1917 World War I propaganda poster demonizing Germany?

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Through two world wars, the image of an enemy as a beast demolishing culture and society was an effective way to inspire patriotism for both Allies and Axis powers. King Kong became an extended metaphor used by many countries to rationalize visually the need to take up arms to save society. This factor adds a dimension to King Kong’s history.

Is Kong a ferocious beast or manipulated anti-hero? Fear and empathy are two powerful  ingredients in a concoction that have movie goers under the spell of the King of the Jungle for over 80 years.

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Did you know that President Kennedy’s father, Joseph, co-founded RKO in 1928? One of the “Big Five” studios from the classic age, RKO studios had a twenty-year golden history establishing the early careers of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, and Cary Grant among others. RKO featured low-budget horror films and birthed the genre of film noir. The studio produced two famous films in motion picture history: King Kong and Citizen Kane as well as Frank Capra’s, It’s a Wonderful Life and Hitchcock’s, Notorious. Remember Scorsese’s, The Aviator? Howard Hughes funded his first two films and bought RKO in 1948 but it dwindled in stature in the late 1950s until it regained its bearings and survives today. Want to explore RKO’s history? I recommend the RKO site HERE .

Back to King Kong. I learned a lot about the film from Turner Classic Movie’s site. Check out TCM HERE

David O. Selznick 1931  hired director George Cukor and left after a year to work with father-in-law, Louis B. Mayer. Enter Merian Cooper as production head and his pet project King Kong. Cooper transformed the script to reality with the special effects work of Willis O’Brien. Selznick advocated for the creative expression of the director and not the factory system of production and is credited for the early success of the studio. Here’s a classic trailer to watch. I think every movie buff ought to see this classic.

The only good thing about the 1976 version was it had Jeff Bridges with great hair. Jessica Lange as a drugged sex-slave did little to sustain my interest as a character. It wasn’t completely her fault. There was little in the script for her work with. The emphasis placed on the screen was for demonstrating her sex-appeal rather than her acting. I found the stereotypical natives prancing around ridiculous and Lange as a sex toy gratuitous. This version won a special Oscar for Best Visual Effects (Carlo Rambaldi, Glen Robinson, Frank Van der Veer) and sound and cinematography were nominated. Be my guest and explain to me why the 1976 version is better than I give it credit.

What a great German movie poster.

When the 2005 version came out, I was surprised many people criticized it. The length was too long at three hours? The pacing was off? stereotypical natives again? I do agree it was a flaw when the natives slobbered black oil and looked like they just crossed the lot from the set of The Lord of the Rings and Two Towers. Obviously, Peter Jackson wanted to create a setting showcasing the possessed, zombie-eyed natives as part of the mystique of Skull Island. It’s a subjective call whether you think the native segment of the film effective. Jungle headhunters? Spear-chucking heathens? As a prehistoric island containing creatures from a number of nightmares, the natives were another addition to the mystic aura of the island, thus Jackson dodged the stereotype issue. I was distracted by any offense by the time the dinosaurs rolled down the mountain. What a breathtaking sequence. CGI in the 2005 version works beautifully. I caught the film on television last week and admired Jackson all the more. His relationship with Andy Serkis, the talented actor who brought authentic Gorilla movements and human emotions via special effects to the screen is extraordinary.

Andy_Serkis_-_King_KongAndy Serkis Web Site

Stay tuned for a post devoted to this intriguing personality.

What about Ann Darrow?

nwattsFay Wray (1933), Jessica Lange (1976), Naomi Watts (2005). Which was your favorite? One reason the film was long was to give more characterization opportunities for developing Ann Darrow. The best parts of the film occurred when she was present. Watts as the vaudeville dancer juggling her way to win Kong over was exquisite and believable. One of the most tender love scenes I’ve seen on the screen happened in Central Park when Ann and Kong slid around the frozen pond. King Kong needed a revamp with technology that would create a scary Skull Island and the monster-on-the-loose scenes in NYC. The story goes that Peter Jackson saw the 1933 version at age eight and cried when Kong fell to his death. It was his favorite film and inspired Jackson to become a filmmaker. His attention to detail and dedication to the original story made the 2005 version the best of the three. He created a new generation of followers and added a positive redux to the fascinating heritage of King Kong.

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Which version do you prefer? What do you think of King Kong?

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