Title: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Writer and Director: Seth Gordon
Stars: Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell
The Story: A laid-off family man decides that the only way to redeem himself is to become the world champion of the arcade game "Donkey Kong". Unfortunately, the current record holder is a monomaniacal chicken-wing king who insists on winning at any cost. It's like a real-life Simpsons episode.
How it Came to be Underrated: This documentary won a lot of fans, but it didn’t get the Oscar nod it deserved. The message never really got across that this is a hilarious and tear-jerking story for everybody, even those who are quick to dismiss this silly subculture.
Why It’s Great:
- The movie never forgets the big question hanging over everything—who could ever possibly care? It’s amazing how Gordon can get us so caught up in the outcome, and yet keeps us laughing at the very idea of such a competition. One of the arcade referees admits that he once wanted to be a star player himself: "I wanted the pretty girls to come up to me and say [sexy voice] 'Hi, I hear you're good at Centipede.'"
- Most of the Oscar nominees that year were Bush administration exposés, but this documentary-as-allegory tells a more universal version of the same story. In this tiny microcosm, a lot of big questions are raised: How and why do conspiracies form on-the-fly during intense situations? What happens when the people in charge start bending their own rules? How long can you manipulate your followers before they get fed up? It doesn’t hurt that the reigning champion is more than happy to paint himself as the embodiment of American triumphalism.
- Generally, there are two types of great cinema verite docs: Either a lucky filmmaker comes upon an extraordinary story, or a great documentarian takes a simple story and makes it great. Gordon, I’m sure, never could have dreamed how moving this story would become when he started, but the resulting movie is far more than a lucky break. It seems like a simple story, but the cross-cutting technique shows an astounding level of organization.
- Case in point: In the movie’s funniest scene, we watch a toady in full meltdown-mode hatch a revenge plan with the reigning champ, who is calling from many states away. To show this, Gordon cuts back and forth between both sides of the same phone conversation in real time. I can’t imagine the wherewithal it took to get the cameras everywhere they needed to be. Gordon is hardcore.
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Another great allegorical doc about an absurd competition is Hands on a Hard Body.
How Available Is It?: It’s on dvd and available on Netflix to 'Watch Instantly'.
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