King of Kong, Part II

As we continue our conversation, Mr. Gordon ponders the relationship between gaming and filming, how Secessionist Austrian art can help shape a film about Donkey Kong, the value of teaching as a profession and the sad fate of Mr. Awesome.


Q.  There have been a lot of changes in the Mitchell/Wiebe situation since movie ended. Are you planning a sequel?

A. I pitched to New Line that the remake should be a sequel. Their answer to that was the doc had such an exciting three act structure that we should follow it. But if the doc gets out there so that the story is so obviously remade beat for beat we have to change it up some. So much keeps transpiring. Walter changed the rules on Steve Wiebe yesterday morning at 2 a.m. You have to have a Twin Galaxy [the official game record keeping organization, co-founded by Mitchell]  referee present when you record a score. It effectively disqualifies Steve going forward beause the Twin Galaxy referees don’t exactly want to co-operate with Steve.

Q.There's a montage intercutting Steve playing drums, diagramming how game is played and playing the game. It kind of orchestrates a symphony of patterns.

A. When I first met Steve Wiebe I was frankly uninterested I doing anything with him because he was such a nice guy I didn’t think he would make a good subject for a film. Two things happened. We met Billy, and he wouldn’t say Steve Wiebe’s name. That fascinated me because I knew how nice Steve was and the fact he was being written out of history by Billy was really interesting. And then when I saw Steve play drums, everything changed. Because he’s so extraordinary at it. And that process evolved through editing where we couldn’t keep track of how fast the sticks were moving. And someone suggested, why don’t you trace the sticks as they’re moving. Because people can’t appreciate how fast it is. And since he’s an engineer and now a science teacher and probably thinks of everything in terms of vectors I thought I’d ask him to teach us Donkey King. And he came up with this way of showing us on screen with a grease pencil.

Q. Is there a connection between his gaming and the process of filmmaking, finding the big pattern in the midst of details?

A. I guess in the sense that Wiebe’s gifts are about pattern recognition and taking the simple patterns and overlaying them on top of each other so that to the outsider it seems like an unbelievably complicated network. So I guess in making the film it was  similar because we tried to have threads that would run throughout the story but break it down into scenes and construct that, since these aren’t actors, from the footage we happened to get. I guess the laying down of patterns in terms of narrative payoffs is similar.

Q. So you’re still a documentarian?

A. When I first started shooting stuff I didn’t know the distinction. When I was 17 or 18 I was living in Africa. I had a camera for the first time and I was a schoolteacher on the Uganda Kenya border. I was 19, because I’d been to Yale for two years and I felt compelled to escape. I went there to teach and my dad let me use his video camera. I fell in love with it. It had one of those screens on the side. And these students, they didn’t even have electricity, but they somehow understood this camera and we shot these things. I came back to Yale and D.A. Pennebaker happened to be the visiting professor that semester. in a documentary class. I had majored in architecture but my academic plan got completely derailed because I wanted to tell stories. And as I said I had not even made a distinction between doc and feature and even now I don’t want to restrict myself to one form because I feel that the story determines the form. I guess that will really be put to the test when we do the remake.

Q. I read an interview in which you listed your influences. Egon Schiele? The Austrian artist?

A. When I saw his drawings I’d never seen anything like them. They were so beautiful and I was totally compelled. I studied architecture and there’s a way in which you figure your voice in the way you draw. And I  found his voice so original and compelling that I’d consider it an influence. Because I’m trying to find my own voice. This is someone who really struck out on his own. And it seems in recent years that the world is catching up. We were at the Leopold Museum I think it was in Vienna and now there’s a whole wing of Schieles.

Q: Sex fiend. Dead before he turned 30. There’s a life you should fictionalize.

A. What a great idea. Him and Jorge Luis Borges.

Q. But it would just be Borges reading books in a library. Or not reading them, since he went blind.

A. His stuff just blew my mind. Did you see “32 Short Films About Glenn Gould?” I'd do something similar.  Borges has these wonderful short stories and it would be a narrative built of vignettes inspired by the stories and you’d go back and forth from the imagination of this writer to the difficult political times in which he was living [in Argentina]. That’s as much of the idea as I’ve gotten so far.

Q. Could be tough pitching it to, say, DreamWorks.

A. It’s definitely an art house movie.

Q. Are you ready to be corrupted by Hollywood?

A. Sure. that’s all a matter of perspective. If ever you’re doing work you don’t believe in, you should stop. But there are lots of amazingly talented people involved in projects that from the outside might look corrupt but it certainly isn’t true in every case.

Q. Does Roy Shildt [the record holder in Missile Command and Billy Mitchell’s bete noir, who has gone insane, apparently] get his own movie?

A. Totally. I just don’t want him to have anything to do with. He’s scary. He’s scary because he’s truly sick. It’s really just sad the way his life has turned out. It’s taken an unfortunate path for all of us. You witness this guy going crazy and this has all happened since we finished the movie. Until that time it seemed like he was a guy who created this character he could have fun with, Mr. Awesome, and he was self-aware. More recently it seems like he’s taken a turn for the worst . He does deserve a movie.

Q. Do you think the movie alters the reality it records, like the Heisenberg Effect?

A. For sure. A doc can’t help but influence the story it’s following. Though we were very careful. But I think it was because we were making the movie that got Wiebe to fight for his record with more determination and ferocity. I think he might have packed and gone home because of pressure from Nicole if the cameras weren’t there.

Q. Just teaching.

A. And his students love him and what they know of the film. He’s very happy but people keep asking, ‘shouldn’t he be working for NASA?’

Q. It’s a waste of so much potential.

A.  I really agree. But the only counter I have to that is that he really is a kid and he’s great at bringing ideas to life. I’ve been I his class; he really connects. And that certainly is an honorable pursuit.

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