Monday, August 8, 2011

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Have you seen this movie? I've watched it a couple of times, and was reminded of it tonight by someone who holds the world record in Super Mario Bros. 2. (I'm serious.) I like this movie. I like most documentaries, because they can be perfect encapsulations of humanity. At first glance, it seems it is just a movie about a bunch of nerds who lack the skills to allocate time appropriately. It definitely is. But, it's also the story of perpetual underdog and Donkey Kong fanatic Steve Wiebe, who sacrifices a lot to become vindicated in his passion obsession by defeating the egotistical, evil mastermind d-bag Billy Mitchell all while keeping Billy's henchmen at bay.

Steve Wiebe reminds me of Odysseus, a totally flawed hero on a journey, a journey that takes far too much time and is wrought with missteps and an almost complete disregard of his family. Ok, so I am over simplifying both stories, but when Steve's daughter is questioning him about why the Guinness Book of World Records is so important and she says, "some people sort of ruin their lives to be in it," that's pretty telling. I'm sure Steve is a much better parent than dead-beat dad Odysseus. (Can you tell how much I hated the Odyssey?) We like Steve. He's a good guy, and we root for him.

Billy Mitchell is potentially the most exasperatingly obnoxious person to be filmed, ever, I can think of some others but they are all fictional so Billy wins. (That actually doesn't seem like winning.) We know he is evil not because he is arrogant, not because he is always wearing a tacky patriotic tie - which are both true - but we know he is the bad guy because he has a weak chin, terrible hair and a wife who is way more attractive than he is. Then the editors make sure we know he is antagonist by intercutting Billy saying things, and then the filmmakers asking his wife questions to which her answers completely contradict Billy's claims, and by playing Leonard Cohen songs with phrases like, "everybody knows the dice are loaded...everybody knows the good guys lost/everybody knows the fight was fixed." While Billy is probably the smarmiest of individuals, I am always curious about what kind of footage was edited out. Maybe Billy is misunderstood. Maybe he's a great humanitarian and not the cowardly cheat he's painted as. I doubt it, but it's always a possibility.

My favorite aspect of this film is the character arch of the supporting player, Walter Day who runs the website with all of the scores, blah blah blah. At first I thought of Walter as the personification of power - even in its slightest form - corrupting. He also has been corrupted by his allegiance and proximity to evil in Billy Mitchell. It's like he's the mayor of Nerdsville and he has been accepting bribes in the form of used greenbacks in plain envelopes under the door of the men's room since the early 80s. His alliances have become detrimental to his judgment and psyche. After he gets to know Steve Wiebe, our non-caped-crusader, and watches him play Donkey Kong for a few hours, he realizes (probably from doing some transcendental meditation) maybe his initial prejudices were errant and then tries to correct his maltreatment of a nice guy. And really, isn't this what we should all be striving for? Correcting our wrongs, having weaknesses become strengths.

The King Of Kong is absolutely an inspiration. We see people achieving their goals after years of depression induced obsessive practice. We see the corrupt become just. We see the smarmy continue on in exactly the same manner. Well, I heard somewhere that two out of three isn't bad.

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