Sunday, June 30, 2013

Godzilla Syndrome

“Pacific Rim” will be playing soon in a theater near me, and I’ll be there.  Of course I will, because there are giant monsters in it.  Ever since I first saw “King Kong” and the Raymond Burr “Godzilla” I have been hooked.  I forgive people who think that it’s a bit strange.

I’m pretty sure myself that it’s a bit strange.  After all, I’m in my mid-sixties, I’m fairly well educated and well read, and I also enjoy movies of great cultural and historical value, movies in which the only monster is the human condition itself.  But those monster movies speak to me, even those featuring lesser monsters, like “Relic,” “Lake Placid,” or “Alien.”  Usually I don’t give it much thought.

Well, yesterday the subject came up and I did give it some thought.  It came up as a bemused “why?”  The answer came to me quickly.

As a boy, I was on the fearful side.  Things were tough in those long ago days, we children were subject to corporal punishment on all sides, there was more illness and worse illnesses, we children fought among ourselves frequently, even the New York traffic itself carried us away in large numbers.  One of the things that I was afraid of was adults.  Not only were they comparatively big and strong, they were also unpredictable and full of potential violence. 

At the age of three or four I was introduced to the library, and I took to it immediately.  I was thrilled to discover the books about dinosaurs, I loved those huge, terrible creatures.  Here was an entire class of animal that was much, much bigger and stronger than mere adults, and even more unknowably strange than the adults. 

I began to draw dinosaurs myself, not well but with enthusiasm.  Many of the resulting tableaus included people, stick figures really, running away from dinosaurs in fear.  The dinosaurs were standing in for adults, of course, and the people in the drawings were adults standing in for children.  The dinosaurs were acting in my stead and turning the tables on those real-life frightening creatures. 

All of this came back to me in a rush as I considered the question yesterday.  I think that I was six when I first saw “King Kong” on the Million Dollar Movie, that first week alone I watched it all the way through six or seven times.  I found it to be a well-made Hollywood movie that brought my old drawings to life in many ways.  There were dinosaurs, plus the mighty Kong, chasing down adults with all of the terrible energy that I had imagined, and the adults were even more afraid than I could ever have hoped. 

There were others, “1,000,000 B.C.,” “The Lost World,” “Mighty Joe Young,” but “King Kong” was by far the best, and the most suitable for my psychological purposes.  Until “Godzilla” that is.

“Godzilla” raised the bar considerably on size, strength and terribleness, and in “Godzilla” even larger crowds of adults are even more afraid.  They scrambled around screaming, trying to save themselves.  The version that I saw was good enough for me at the time, although later I realized that there was an original version out there somewhere.  

The original is a stunning artistic success.  The first “Godzilla” was a really good movie, a serious artistic effort with real themes and great human characters.  Not that Raymond Burr crap, amateurishly pasted together to please American audiences, but the original Japanese version.  Get ahold of it if you can. 

Around this time I began to have recurring nightmares about King Kong and Godzilla, in which they took the place of adults, tormenting me and chasing me around.  I was about nine-years-old.  I had these dreams well into adulthood, with the imagery shifting appropriately. 

There’s a story that I like, and that I have told herein before, about Walter Koenig, “Star Trek’s” Chekov.  He was interviewed by TV Guide and it turned out that he is a big time toy collector.  The interviewer asked him if he was trying to recreate his childhood.  “No,” he said, “it’s more that I am trying to recreate my escape from my childhood.”  He’d had a tough time of it too, and his toys were a comfort to him. 

In that same way, Godzilla in particular, and giant monsters in general, are still a comfort to me.  So, one mystery solved!  What’s next on the agenda!

(I don't remember this last part myself, but it's nice to know that it was captured for posterity.) 

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