Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Real Life Indiana Jones?

The advertisement links for King Kong and Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper over at The Shelf reminded me of a wonderful documentary that has been running on Turner Classic Movies.

I'm King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper is a 60 minute documentary covering the life of the director of the original 1933 King Kong directed by Merian C. Cooper. The documentary was released just in time to serve as an interesting biographical background piece for those going to see the 2005 remake directed by Peter Jackson.

I'm King Kong! spends little time on the creation of the 1933 classic, rather it covers the exciting life of the man behind the camera. Merian C. Cooper was a cinematic innovator who, prior to King Kong, had revolutionized the documentary in his travels to dangerous corners of the globe. One innovation in particular was the way he used the camera to capture animals in action. Merian didn't photograph tigers and lions from a distance. Instead he captured the hunting tiger in action and filmed elephant stampedes from within the stampede itself. Cooper's documentary's pushed the envelope both technologically and narratively. Instead of presenting apparent scientific, or anthropological, observations, Cooper attempted to present the stories of the peoples he was documenting.

But the adventures of Merian C. Cooper don't begin with his explorations and documentaries, no they begin much earlier in his life. Cooper served as a bomber pilot during the First World War and stayed after the war in Poland where he served as a part of an independant air squadron battling the invading during the Russo-Polish war. It was this brief segment of Cooper's life that I found the most intriguing.

Ever since I was young I have read the Blackhawk comic books, but I (like Wikipedia) never made a connection to any real world pilot squadron. To me the Blackhawks were an idea only applicable to the Second World War, though they also served as inspiration for the pilots in Sky Captain and the World of Tommorrow. While the creators of Blackhawk were probably unaware of Cooper's piloting in Poland during the Russo-Poland war, this part of the documentary made it clear that Cooper was as much a real life Blackhawk as he was a real life Indiana Jones.

Cooper's life, as presented in I'm King Kong, is a life of adventure and struggle against all odds. It comes then as no surprise that Cooper's representation of the Denham character is an exercise of self-portrait. The exercise is taken even further with Jack Black's version of the character in the latest Kong film. Denham, like Cooper, was a man of action who lived close to the edge. If you get a chance, watch I'm King Kong the next time it shows on TCM.

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