The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
A Documentary following Steve Weibe, a high school science teacher trying to break the world record ‘Donkey Kong’ score, held by veteran gamer Billy Mitchell.
All the great narratives in world literature and cinema have certain things in common: a concerning narrative, some form of conflict, deeply considered characters to name a few. The great documentaries find these in real life. When Seth Gorden, ‘The King of Kong’s’ director first clapped eyes on the subjects of this enthralling documentary, he must have thought all his Christmases arrived at once, for you will be hard-pressed to find more interesting personalities.
We follow Steve Weibe through his ordeal. He breaks the record, which doesn’t get ratified on a technicality. He breaks it again, only to have it re-broken minutes later. Everything seems to be against him, the organisers have such a reverence for Billy that they will openly castigate Steve.
Donkey Kong just got real.
The ‘good guy-bad guy’ motif couldn’t be more clearly presented if Billy Mitchel wore horns and a pointy tail, and Steve Weibe put on a robe, grew a beard and started blessing lepers. Weibe is a man portrayed as a slightly sad ‘good egg’ who just never reached his potential. He has a family, a loving (a very understanding) wife but there is a sadness in him. Through his story we see a man needing a victory to make sense of his place in the world. He needs to become the hero.
With every hero story there must be a villain and they don’t come much better than Billy Mitchell, the mullet-haired, ego-maniacal hot sauce distributor Billy has been on top on the Donkey Kong ladder for 25 years and don’t think he has forgotten. He is perfect. He made me regularly laugh out loud at the audacity of what he was saying.
If I could write a character like Billy I could retire at thirty, much like Brian Kuh, Billy’s protégé, underling and general arse kisser. He has retired, moved close to the arcades and devoted his time to breaking classic arcade records. There is a moment in the film where Steve Weibe breaks the Donkey Kong record on Brian’s turf and as he explains to the camera what just happened, you can quite clearly see his heart break. If he wasn’t such a sniveling weasel of a man you could almost feel sorry for him. It’s a beautiful moment.
As the premise suggests, the documentary may not be for everyone but for sheer entertainment you can’t beat it. For me personally it seemed like it was fashioned to give me joy; the overt 80’s popular culture references, music from The Karate Kid and Rocky. This director knows what I like.
Note: This film is available on youtube.