What is the value of a documentary that neither educates its viewer nor constructs a narrative of any believability?
King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters is the “heartwarming” tale of a fairly regular guy, Steven Wiebe, who has a notable bent towards nerdiness. Specifically, he is fuck-awesome at Donkey Kong. This is a man with a nice suburban home, a seemingly strong supportive family of a wife and two kids, and a job teaching middle school students. However, in his spare time he sets world-record high scores on 80s arcade games. The film presents the story of this man as he storms the nerd establishment of competitive gaming, ultimately taking on the Donkey Kong record of their vain and distasteful poster-boy. It paints a tale of the geek establishment using shady means and internal politics to deny our Hero his rightful record, while maintaining the image of their own beloved but highly suspect nerd champion. Unfortunately, this story is one cursory Google-search away from collapse.
Documentary films are inherently subjective, and have always been so. Movie cameras are less than omniscient, so the very act of pointing them at something is editorial. But while there is always at least *this much* bias, documentaries are often able to successfully inform/persuade or present/display. Some documentaries endeavor to provide as much information as possible on a given subject, and some attempt to present a time-line of events. Oftentimes, a documentary will compensate for it’s bias by presenting itself from a single party’s point of view, Hearts of Darkness being a good example. King of Kong though, leaps from party to party, covering everyone somewhat equally. This faux-omnipresence doesn’t give the film the subjective indulgence of a narrow point of view, resulting in it’s massive reworking of events and people not holding up.
Very little about this documentary stands up to any level of scrutiny. We are never told that when Wiebe’s video-taped record-break is rejected, the 1st place score actually reverts back to his own record- not the villainous Billy Mitchell’s record. Turns out, Wiebe held the Donkey Kong record for nearly 3 years before the documentary’s story even begins! The film also goes out of it’s way to paint Mitchell as a shifty, politicking, egotistical douche-bag that avoids Wiebe at every possible step. In fact, Wiebe and Mitchell directly competed at gaming events that the documentary completely ignores. Instead, they portray Mitchell as a frightened hack, coasting on decades-old records. The two were apparently quite friendly with each other, and Mitchell attended events and dinners that the film shows him as having avoided. The list of innacuracies goes on and on, with little research past Wikipedia* necessary.
One can argue that documentaries are always warped in favor of a satisfying narrative and sometimes must exist in a relative vacuum. Admittedly, the film doesn’t begin with anything stating that “The Following Is A True Story” but it certainly presents itself as such. Even taken as a self-contained story that intends only to be inspirational, it just doesn’t work. The doc fails to hold up it’s own shaky presentation of events. More than once, interviews contain small chunks of explanation that allude to ignored competitions, and don’t jibe with the Frankenstein-narrative the movie is running with. It’s really quite frustrating to watch. Even more frustrating, is that the movie’s climax results in a pretty huge disappointment for our Hero, and he is only vindicated in a rushed “Gotcha!” moment immediately before the credits. In a movie that has no problems employing Rocky homages and Joe Esposito’s “You’re The Best Around,” it’s a pretty fucking weak victory. Dammit, that shit should have been explosive! Triumphant! As it stands, the moment is an anti-climactic afterthought.
I hate to be a curmudgeon, as everyone seems to love this movie. It really seems to come across with a lot of heart. Unfortunately, when looked at with any amount of scrutiny, or when held up to reality, it becomes a manipulative (and kinda fucking mean) tall-tale that does little to make anyone look particularly good. If you can still find one, you might as well just drop some of your own quarters in the arcade. Galaga kicks Donkey Kong’s ass anyway.
*I’ve been told that the special features of the DVD (which I haven’t dug through) contain extra interview footage that also reveals the massive liberties taken with the story. You can also take a look at CHUD’s interview with the creator’s, where they dance around issues like Billy’s portrayal.
Thanks for reading folks!
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BONUS: Renn’s One-Word Movie Review
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Past One-Word Movie Reviews
August 18th, 2008 : : Inglorious Bastards – Carpenter-esque
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August 8th, 2008 : : Naked Lunch - Neither
July 29th, 2008 : : The Hitcher  – Rutger!
July 8th, 2008 : : Lou Ferrigno’s Hercules – Spacey
July 1st, 2008 : : WALL-E – Tender
June 27th, 2008 : : Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom) - Evil
June 22nd, 2008 : : You Don’t Mess With The Zohan – Jocular
June 17th, 2008 : : The Happening – Embarrassing
June 14th, 2008 : : Kung-Fu Panda – Thin
June 12th, 2008 : : Run Lola Run – Reckless
June 9th, 2008 : : Day Watch – Upgrade
June 8th, 2008 : : The Amateurs – Endearing
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