Annotations for “A King At Twilight” 8 pages in Cinema Purgatorio #4
Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Kevin O’Neill
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Note: Some of this is obvious, but you never know who’s reading and what their exposure is. If there’s anything we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.
General: This issue tells the biography of pioneer stop-animation genius Willis O’Brien voiced by his most famous creation King Kong. In an unpublished interview Alan Moore stated:
…for issue four, Kevin sent me some reference material – a big book on the history of model animation – that contained the heartbreaking biographical details of Willis O’Brien. It was at this point, with the idea to put O’Brien’s story and voice into the mouth of his greatest creation, that we finally realised what we were doing.
- The cover references the stop-action giant gorilla from the 1933 film King Kong.
- The armature, especially the uncovered arm on the left, resembles the actual original King Kong armature.
- The man standing on the left is Willis H. O’Brien, stop-motion pioneer, creator of King Kong and numerous other early stop motion films. O’Brien was photographed several times wearing a similar hat, see here and here. It is not clear why he stands on the edge of the table – suggest?? (Theoretically the hands in the upper right should be O’Brien’s too.)
- The woman in the white dress is actress Fay Wray playing Ann Darrow. Her pose in the gorilla’s hand resembles this King Kong sequence, which combines a stop motion gorilla body with a live action Wray filmed in giant hand.
- The projection of Wray’s image on the screen behind the gorilla miniature shows the rear projection technique perfected by O’Brien. This was the way that early films blended stop motion with live action.
- The three dead figurines represent O’Brien’s wife, Hazel O’Brien, and their sons, William and Willis, Jr. William was blind from tuberculosis. In 1933, Hazel shot and killed William and Willis Jr. before turning the gun on herself.
- A “Humber Hawk” is a type of British car. This is the latest suggestion that our protagonist is in some sort of liminal space, not ordinary linear time.
- “Eye, the Jury” is a play on the 1953 film “I, the Jury.”
- “WKO Wireless Pictures” is a play on “RKO Radio Pictures.” RKO Pictures produced and distributed the 1933 film King Kong.
- The first-person narration tells the story of Willis H. O’Brien, the stop-motion animation pioneer who animated King Kong.
- O’Brien is in some ways analogous to Alan Moore. Both were (Moore still is) creative mavericks who did work for exploitative creative industries.
- The incongruous dialogue (O’Brien’s words in Kong’s mouth) is somewhat similar to a technique Moore used in Providence #8 where he placed Randall Carver and Robert Black’s dialogue in H.P. Lovecraft characters mouths.
- These panels form a fixed-camera sequence. This literally references the fixed camera used for early stop-motion animation. The ape’s entire body remains still while the head moves.
- “Scale of destruction, it was immense. This huge force of nature” has a double meaning: both the S.F. earthquake and the scale of O’Brien’s stop motion monsters, including Kong.
- “Steinberg” is not mentioned in O’Brien’s Wikipedia bio. Suggest??
- In 1914 Willis O’Brien created the short film The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy.
- O’Brien subsequently did films for Edison.
These [earlier Edison] films led to a commission from Herbert M. Dawley to write, direct, co-star and produce the effects for another dinosaur film, The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918), for a budget of $3,000. The collaboration was not a happy one and Dawley would cut the 45-minute film down to 11 minutes and claim credit for O’Brien’s pioneering effects work, which combined realistic stop-motion animated prehistoric models with live action. The film grossed over $100,000 and Dawley used the cut effects footage in a sequel Along the Moonbeam Trail (1920) and the documentary Evolution (1923), but O’Brien received little financial reimbursement from this success.
- The details of O’Brien’s feud with Dawley have recently been somewhat disputed by recent research at Cinefex (also summarized at The Optical podcast.) On the other hand, readers are hearing only O’Brien’s side in this story.
- “Animals” has a double meaning here: mean-spirited studio people and monsters like Kong. The sentence “I love my craft…” sounds like it could come directly from an Alan Moore account of his work for DC Comics.
- O’Brien was hired by producer Watterson Rothaker.
- “[Arthur] Conan Doyle” was a fiction writer, famous for creating Sherlock Holmes.
- “The Lost World” was a 1913 novel by Arthur Conan Doyle. It was adapted by O’Brien into a film in 1925.
- Nitpick: “favourite” is the British spelling, should probably be “favorite.”
- Harry Hoyt directed the 1925 film The Lost World.
- “Bladders that breathed” were among O’Brien’s stop-motion innovations.
- All this is O’Brien’s bio.
- According to Wikipedia, “O’Brien was married to Hazel Ruth Collette in 1925” but rarebit.org claims they were married in 1917, which seems much closer to the claim that they had been married seven years in 1925.
panels 1 and 2
- These panels form a zoom sequence. This is a film technique that Moore uses frequently in comics, including on P1 of Watchmen #1.
- “Hoyt projects… Atlantis, Creation” refer to films O’Brien worked on, but which were canceled before being released.
- These panels form a fixed-camera sequence.
- The sequence echoes the King Kong scene where the gorilla strips Darrow (Wray) down to her slip, and soon thereafter a pterodactyl attempts to abduct her.
- “I guess I was a monster” and “I was just this big ape” again have double meanings.
- O’Brien biography continues.
- Merian Cooper was the head of RKO Pictures and co-producer of King Kong.
- Edgar Wallace was a prolific writer. Many movies were based on his work, including King Kong.
- “My masterpiece” is the film King Kong. This is confirmed in the next panel.
- “1933” is the year King Kong was released.
- Willis Junior, O’Brien’s son went blind from tuberculosis.
- This continues the O’Brien biography.
- “Same year, the studio wanted a sequel: a ‘son of'” refers to Son of Kong which also came out in 1933. (Thanks commenter Paul Evans.) “It cheapened the original” could be a subtle swipe at ill-considered sequels to Moore’s DC work, including the inferior Before Watchmen.
- Again, this is O’Brien biography.
- The underground spider pit is a missing sequence cut from King Kong. According to Willis O’Brien: Special Effects Genius: (P18)
In the original film, [after falling from the log] the crew are devoured by spiders and other creatures in this “pit,” but this sequence was cut out and has never been found.
- “Eat you alive” has a double meaning: O’Brien’s guilt and the spiders eating Kong.
- These panels form a fixed-camera sequence, which, as some films do fades to black.
- “Japanese studio stole my idea” refers to how, according to Wikipedia, “In the early 1960s, RKO had licensed the King Kong character to Japanese studio Toho and produced two King Kong films, King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes.”
- Again both “stole my idea” and “I was an artist in an industry…” echo Alan Moore’s struggles with DC Comics.
- “It’s a beast. It knows nothing of love… and it always kills the beauty.” is a play on the famous final line of King Kong: “It was beauty killed the beast.”
- A biographical note: Moore and O’Neill (perhaps due to page constraints) omit much of O’Brien’s later life. He continued making movies, remarried, and lived until 1962.
- “Mighty King Joe” is a conflation of two O’Brien’s giant gorilla films: the 1933 King Kong and the 1949 Mighty Joe Young.
- “Kia-Ora” is a British soft-drink.
- “Icy Love” – This appears to be based on an actual Walls brand ice cream, called “Heart”, which was available in the 1970s. It was apparently the most expensive such treat at the time.
- The name “Icy Love”, and next panel’s comment “there’s no flavour to it”, have obvious metaphorical force.
- For notes on the Marilyn Monroe Screen Regrets cover (which appears before the stories in each issue) see notes for Cinema Purgatorio #1.