(Just a single rule: mix-tape-style, no more than one film per director. You know, because otherwise the whole thing would be pointless.)
(#15) The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Documentary • dir. Seth Gordon • 2007 • USA
Oh America, I’ve grown to love that vital part of you that always embraces optimism, that has to do with possibilities and betterment. And I love how your fundamental lack of cynicism can remain the right side of corny, through an earnest belief in the efficacy of corporate endeavor. I love how you say “you’re welcome” and actually mean it. What’s more America, endless inexplicable America, you are the perfect place to feel small and dream. Just ask the handful of your citizens in The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. Where else but America would the quest to become an arcade game record-holder make as much sense? And where else is big and accommodating enough to welcome, as one, the eccentric few for whom such a thing matters – not incidentally but as the preeminent context for friendships and hopes? Including, here, two men battling for the top where there’s only room for one: downtrodden nice guy Steve, and Machiavellian showman Billy.
Boy, I really do love this movie (and you will too!). Far from emerging as remote or odd, its protagonists offer more humanity and vigor than most other films ever muster. For all the disputes between them, the rivalries, suspicions and jealousies, in essence they’re a band. They prop one another up, in the midst of shared enthusiasms and insecurities alike. They want more than what they have, but are grateful for all that they’ve got. They vie for supremacy, but rely on their peers to give their efforts’ worth. They sometimes fail, but keep on trying. They take what they do seriously, but leaven this seriousness with irony and self-deprecation. In other words, as the saying goes, they’re us (only with bad hair, better hand-eye coordination, and a penchant for novelty T-shirts). How remarkable, when you invalidate the easy out – sneering condescension – all that’s left is the invitation to care. Better yet, the bracing breath of life, in King of Kong there’s no earthly reason not to. It could all so easily reek of filmmakers betraying offbeat folk for a fast buck. But no. There’s that lack of cynicism again: King of Kong never seems exploitative. It’s charming, warm, and lovely. If the phrase ‘where else but America’ is sometimes disparaging, in this disarming documentary it’s seductively a compliment.