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This week:
The King of Kong

Filthy says:
"Pant-shittingly good!"

When I was a kid I imagined that every intersection was a contest. It was me on a bike versus the cars to see who could get across faster. I would time the light the other direction and jump on the pedal of my Raleigh at the precise moment I got a green. In my head was an announcer doing a very professional job of casting the race. And as impartial as he was supposed to be, really he was rooting for me and found excuses for the times I lost. Usually I won, though, because I was really fucking good at racing old ladies in Datsun B-210s for 60 feet. I could usually be across before they even noticed the light had changes.

I came out of that phase, partly because it was pretty lame, but mostly because I grew up. I found more important things to occupy my time, such as my parent's nightly arguments or whether balloons filled with water were good tactile approximations of boobies. Besides, it's not like anyone else cared about my bicycling. If they did, they'd have to be pretty damn weird. There wasn't going to be an ESPN show about bike-car intersection drag racing. I know, I pitched the idea, along with the "pedal cam", a tiny video camera strapped to the end of the crank and taping the traffic while rotating in tiny circles. It was fucking rad, even if it did make you queasy.

While I watched the new documentary The King of Kong, I thought about the petty little contest I made up just so I could be champion of something, no matter how pointless. That's what this movie is about, that there is competition for everyone, no matter how banal and trivial, and that no matter what level, some people will take it way too seriously. The movie is so fucking good I would eat my own shit to see it again. Ah, hell, who am I kidding? There are several things that could convince me to eat my own shit: especially the Tavern's "Free Beer if You Eat Your Own Shit" happy hour. Still, that's pretty heady company for a non-fiction movie about grown men obsessed with the video games of their childhoods. In particular, it is about the pursuit of a world record for "Donkey Kong", a game from the early eighties about a giant ape who has stolen Mario's girlfriend, and the player has to navigate through several construction sites and a pie factory to rescue her. Over and over and over.

A movie about old guys playing old video games doesn't sound very interesting. Well, except to the people in this movie. That's because they live in a bizarre, insular world, where who holds the world records at Joust, Defender, Q-Bert and Ms. Pac-Man are not only important, but are the center of the universe. The movie features a cast of true-life weirdos and loners who are almost all men, almost all virgins, almost all social misfits and almost all so reduced to insignificance in the real world that they have retreated to this weird, competitive club where who can shoot the most space aliens in a 25-year old game defines manhood and courage. Just think about this: somewhere in this country right now there is a middle-aged man playing Mappy, not for fun, but to define his worth.

Lording over the cavalcade of social freaks is Walter Day, who runs an organization called Twin Galaxies. It documents and verifies world records in video games. Walter is a ghost of a man, pasty, hollow-eyed, perpetually exhausted and consumed by his organization. It's probably the only place in the world where he's relevant. He thinks it's still 1982 and actually says he always wanted to be the guy whose high scores at Centipede the pretty girls noticed. These days he wears a referee jersey while officiating gaming tournaments.

In The King of Kong, the world of Day and many other sad little men is centered on adulation for a world-class asshole named Billy Mitchell. Mitchell wears cheap, patriotic ties that you might see on the clearance rack at Wal-Mart, has a mullet he blow-dries and fusses over, and a weasely face. He runs a chicken-wing shack, sells hot wing sauce and thinks he's pretty big shit. He looks like he's had at least one bitchin' Camaros in his past. He talks easily about how great and clever he thinks he is, even though his accomplishments don't extend beyond old video games. He doesn't do anything that won't directly reflect glory on himself. He also holds multiple records at video games, including Donkey Kong.

The world of King of Kong is filled with men who can talk at length about "kill screens" and can't come to the phone in the middle of a rousing game of Ladybug. There is one eighty-year-old woman who's champion of Q-Bert, but she never achieves her true potential because she gets distracted by bingo. In this sad crowd, Mitchell is idolized. I doubt any of the other gamers spend a whole lot of time thinking about what an asshole he is. He has what they want, which is fame within their insular world. To a guy like lonely, nervous Bill Kuh, who considers himself Mitchell's protege, there is no greater achievement in life.

So Mitchell is the villain. The hero is Steve Wiebe, a mild-mannered man from Washington who revived his love for Donkey Kong after losing his job a few years ago. Wiebe is a total-outsider to the creepy world of serious gamers. He is almost normal; hell, the man has a wife and kids, which are two things most of the others can never hope to have. Losing his job shook him, and being the best at Donkey Kong is a way to get his confidence back.

Wiebe is obsessive-compulsive and meticulous. When he decides he wants to hold the world record in Donkey Kong, he thrusts himself into a world he could not possibly have anticipated. Anyway, I had no idea this subculture of virginal, pasty nuts with their own lingo and rivalries existed. He moves a game console into his garage and practices for hours, eventually beating Billy Mitchell's best score.

That brings the wrath of Billy Mitchell, who, under the fabulous mullet, is insanely insecure. Under his coercion, Twin Galaxies sends people to tear apart Wiebe's game console, looking for an excuse to disqualify Wiebe. They can't find anything obviously wrong, but concoct a conspiracy theory involving Mitchell's longtime nemesis, Roy "Mr. Awesome" Schildt, who gave a gameboard to Wiebe. Mr. Awesome is a swell foil. He once self-produced a video called Mr. Awesome's Guide to Getting Girls where he dressed up as Patton and preached about "poontang" while standing in front of the American flag. He also has a Pontiac Firebird with lightning bolts taped to it called the Awesomemobile. He's actually one of the more socially normal people in competitive gaming.

Twin Galaxies subsequently voided Wiebe's record. Mitchell waxes poetic about how records should be set in person, with a referee and audience. And what follows is a pattern of Wiebe traveling across the country to legitimize his record and Mitchell trying very hard to avoid him, and manipulating behind the scenes to discredit him, including submitting a questionable videotape of a new record as soon as Wiebe undisputably tops him in front of Walter Day. And back and forth, but mostly with Mitchell acting like an insecure pussy who won't compete in public. Twin Galaxies serves only to benefit Mitchell because he is, in his greasy visage, the closest thing they have to a rock star.

What's incredible is that although Wiebe is an outsider, his decency wins over Mitchell's sycophants. By the end of the movie, Mitchell's spell has largely been broken and his former followers openly root for and admire Wiebe for the decent guy he is. Walter Day even apologizes for how shitty he's treated him.

The King of Kong is the best fucking movie I've seen this year. Easily. Ultimately it's the story of modesty and hard work eventually winning. I may not have either virture, but at least I can respect them. This is the story of an outsider trying to enter and conquer a world of strange men afraid of outsiders, especially those with lives. It's a battle between a man who wants to be treated fairly and a horde who want to preserve their little paradise. By the end, I was rooting so damn hard for Wiebe that I nearly cried when Mitchell's machinations once again denied him the record. Sure, Wiebe's a little obsessed with Donkey Kong, but he's such an unassuming guy, and he doesn't wear hideous ties, gloat, brag or flip his hair over his shoulder. Like his young daughter points out about the Guiness Book of World Records, "Some people will ruin their lives to be in that book." Wiebe is the guy who won't, and he's up against a lot of people who will.

God damn, what a fucking awesome movie. Five Fingers for The King of Kong.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Whore of the Year Pete Hammond of Maxim

The Brave One is "A true shocker tht will shatter your nerves and get you talking!"

The Hunting Party is "fast-paced, smart and exciting. A nifty mixture of wit and suspense!"

Shoot 'em up is "Loaded for fun!" A trigger-happy, full-frontal assault. So out there you'll just have to see it to believe it...Clive Owens rules!"

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is "A masterwork! This film already has the feel of a classic!"

Filthy's Reading
Raymond Chandler - Playback

Listening to
Preston School of Industry - All This Sounds Gas


War Games