April 1, 2010

Justify My Netflix: The King of Kong

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The King of Kong

Today's movie: The King of Kong, 2007 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because this movie has a stellar reputation, one of those documentaries from the '00s to not only help redefine the format but re-ignite public interest in it, a "metafilm" that is as much about the inherent artificiality of the documentary process as it is about its professed subject.

The reality: Pretty damn good, I gotta admit. And I'm relieved, because I went into this kind of half-cringing from its reputation: covering a period in the early 2000s when a series of middle-aged losers got into a very public fight over who exactly holds the highest score ever on the nearly thirty-year-old videogame Donkey Kong (and with a series of other middle-aged losers jumping in and trying to make as much money off the feud as possible), this film is precisely known for the harsh way it treats its deluded, antisocial subjects, a whole class of "Balloon Boy" type Midwesterners not only addicted to fame at any cost, even if it means the complete humiliation of themselves and their families, but fame addicts hopelessly stuck on the glories of their pasts, paunchy condiment salesmen and desperate arcade owners who still clutch to their 1983 haircuts and coin-op pizza-parlor consoles, in a grim and embarrassing attempt to hold on to whatever little local power and fortune they once had, and especially after a growing amount of lazy local television journalists nationwide decide that this absurdist feud over a meaningless honorary regarding a long-dead game is just the kind of goofy filler they can use to end their ten o'clock broadcast.

And yes, the film is all that and more; but what's so surprising is how riveting it is anyway, even despite the dozens of moments one wishes to wince and turn away from the screen in vicarious embarrassment for the clueless participants being seen. The fact is that these types of people are fascinating like a trainwreck, which after all is why we all remained so glued to the Balloon Boy saga long after it was proven that the boy wasn't actually in the balloon; and since the subject of this documentary, lo-fi videogames, is one that used to be so near and dear to my own heart, but one I was able to successfully let go of as it eventually passed out of its cultural acme, it was especially interesting to me to watch this whole group of men my own age and with similar backgrounds who simply aren't able to let go, the utterly fascinating process of watching exactly how one gets trapped in the pop-culture detritus of whatever happened to be trendy in their particular twenties, of how it is that balding, beer-bellied 45-year-olds prancing around in cartoonishly ill-fitting goth outfits can somehow see themselves as actually "still with it." You have to be in a certain mood to enjoy this movie, that's for sure, but I was surprised by how much more entertaining this was than I thought it was going to be, as long as you're actually in that mood when watching it. It comes recommended for those specifically seeking such material.

Strangest piece of trivia: I actually met arcade owner Walter Day once in the '90s, at the ABA BookExpo where he was hawking his Twin Galaxies Book of Videogame World Records, and he was even more batsh-t crazy than this movie makes him out to be.

Worth your time? Yes, if you're in the mood to feel morally superior for two hours

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:30 AM, April 1, 2010. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |