Thursday, June 10, 2004

Break stuff

One of the things I think about often: What do I find so appealing in giant monster movies? The truth is there is not any one reason, there are many facets to the gem that make up giant monster movies. So from time to time, I'm going to explore the ideas that appeal to me in these movies.
One reason stands out: I love destruction. Who doesn't? Anytime a skyscraper is going to be brought down by a professional demolition team, see how many people show up. There's always a crowd. People like to see things fall apart (under controlled circumstances.)
At The Mumpsimus, Matthew Cheney looks at destruction in fiction and why we come to it.

One of the reasons fantasy literatures are valuable is because of the often mysterious and generally unpredictable connections between imagination and reality. Western theatre is a perfect example of this -- we venerate as classic many works filled with imagined destructions, both personal and public. There have been, at least since Aristotle, countless suggestions of why this is so. Perhaps we need to be reminded of our mortality, to face our anxieties and doubts about how and why we live. Perhaps we need to imagine our world destroyed so that we can value it before it collapses. Perhaps we are strengthened by envisioning all that could go wrong.

In giant monster movies, there's almost a childlike pleasure we take in the destruction. It's the catharsis of being young, surrounded by building blocks and just wanting to knock them down. Who didn't want to be Sting in that Police video knocking down all the tall candlesticks?
Marc Cerasini, the author of several Godzilla novels that came out in the late '90s, knows all about this. He wrote a column called "Monster Mash or Monster Bash?" in which he categorizes two kinds of giant monster fans: mash fans or bash fans. The mash fans love to see men in rubber suits fighting it out. The bash fans are in it to watch elaborately built miniature models destroyed. Obviously, giant monster movie fans fall into both camps, but Cerasini says you have to ultimately come down on one side or the other. (It's like the whole Elvis vs. the Beatles thing in the deleted scene from Pulp Fiction.)
As Cerasini says, for the bash fan there is no better movies than the "origin episodes," those movies that first feature a monster alone. "Godzilla," "King Kong," "Gorgo" and "Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" offer unparalleled destruction of cityscapes. The movies are about the unrelenting advance of some monster, annhiliating all in its way. I can think of few more beautiful images than Godzilla spraying fire around him as flames rise from Tokyo's streets. The image has been updated and reused over and over in Godzilla movies.
On the other side are films like "Godzilla vs. Gigan" and "Daimaijan" where most of the action takes place on Pacific islands or in pre-industrial areas. These have an appeal all their own, but for the bash fan it's a thin gruel.
For me, this is only one small part of the glory of giant monster movies, but an important one nonetheless.

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