Friday, September 28, 2018

I went Ape and all I got was this Lousy Summer

A whole summer of ape and ape-related movies was the 2018 summer movie theme and it proved to have a few surprises. My initial feelings were that most of these films were going to be simple narratives, probably racist and almost certainly chauvinistic. That was occasionally the case, but not always. Among the dross, there were a few bonafide gems. My movie watching philosophy is that even the most vilified and disregarded of genre films still has the potential for a worthy moment. A summer of watching ape movies bore that out.

The ape in film is relentlessly portrayed as the animal side of humans given form, a being of unbridled appetites whether that is a hunger for food, sex or wanton destruction. In the films I viewed there wasn’t much variation from that standpoint, it might be the innocent jealousy of Amy from Congo (1995), or the lust-driven slavers of Empire of the Apes (2013). In the sampling of dog films I did in 2017, dogs came in all manner of personalities, with apes not so much.

The biggest surprise of the bunch was The Monster and the Girl (1941), I did not expect a tale of brain transplants and revenge on a bunch of mobsters to be a moody, and often emotional piece. Bride of the Gorilla (1943) was also a pleasant discovery. The stupid title does this film no favors, but if you can move past that it becomes an eerie portrait of a man consumed by the jungle, mentally but perhaps also physically.

If there was an entry that was what I thought a typical ape movie was going to be like, it was Night of the Bloody Apes (1969/1972), it's very blatant in its quest for a body count and women to leer at. It revels in its excess and stands the polar opposite to the 1940s films in terms of nuance and feel.

Giant apes were well represented. Konga (1961) is pretty dull but, Ape (1976) and King Kong Lives (1986) are the kind of absurd spectacle that makes up for shortcomings in the story (and there were plenty). I’ve always had a soft spot for Ape, I must have a thing for movies where I can’t tell if they are trying to make something serious or not. I secretly hope they were.

With people now having a better understanding of apes, we see them less and less as the monster and more as the victim of humans in pop culture. Virtually every movie I watched over the summer ended with the destruction of an ape or apes at human hands and often the aggressors showed some sympathy for them.

If apes in film mirror our baser nature, in the end we feel bad for having to reign in the monsters inside us. Is it pity for the beast or recognizing that part of ourselves?

Konga (1961)
Ape (1976)
Link (1986)
Congo (1995)

No comments:

Post a Comment