David Bordwell just sent me the following note:
Long ago I remember the French critic Thierry Kuntzel giving a talk (which he never published, I think) on KING KONG arguing that it had such a construction, which he compared to an opened book, and the discovery of Kong as the 'gutter' (we'd say) between two pages, before and after. I've never checked to confirm this, but maybe it would fit too.
Are there any takers? I have seen the original, as well as the more recent remake, but this is not something you can do from memory. You need to watch the film and take notes. Judging from my experience, it should take at least half-a-day to do this.
And you start with a leg-up. In the first place, you have a reason to think the film might be a ring form, so you're looking for something specific–remember Mary Douglas's check list? Further, you've got a candidate for the central episode; that makes things much simpler.
Now you're trying to verify whether or not that episode is the center of a ring. Without that start you might have to test several episodes for centrality. And – obviously – when you're looking for ring form, the first thing to look for IS that central episode. In the cases of both Tezuka's Metropolis and Heart of Darkness, I started with a suspicion about what the central episode was.
Apocalypse Now was different By the time I began working on the film two years ago I had become interested in ring form and had, by that time, published my Metropolis analysis. So I was on the lookout. But AN didn't seem promising. In fact, that's why I did one post where I simply went through the whole film and summarized each section. I took the DVD's chapter divisions at face value when I did this. Why?
I assume that the people who did that had been working closely with the film for a while and that they had good instincts. Maybe they got something wrong, but at this point the best way to determine that would be to start with what they’ve done and see how things work out. Beyond that, however, I grouped the individual segments into higher level “chapters”, more or less on general principle.
I saw, of course, that the sampan massacre was a pivotal incident, but I couldn’t see that the prior and subsequent episodes were symmetrically arranged around it. Nor did I have that somewhat less constraining concept of center point construction available to me; I came up with that in the course of working on Heart of Darkness, which I did when I’d finished my work on Apocalypse Now.
Once, however, I decided to check AN for center point, the argument fell into place rather quickly (because I’d already do a lot of work). The crucial move, of course, was to see that the sampan massacre WAS the center point, rather than Chief’s death, which corresponds to the center point in HoD.
Addendum: From Judith Mayne, "King Kong" and the Ideology of Spectacle, Quarterly review of film studies, Vol. 1, No. 4, November 1976: 373-387.
And yet the structure of King Kong is a paragon of symmetry. The center of the film, occurring on Skull Island, is enclosed by two sequences occurring in New York, and these two sequences in their turn are enclosed by the references to Beauty and the Beast. In addition, New York and Skull are held up to each other as in a mirror reflection. Our first view of Skull Island, through Denham's map, could easily be is taken for the Island of Manhattan. Just as Kong climbs to the top of his mountain and fights off pterodactyls in defense of Ann Darrow, so, in New York, he climbs to the top of the Empire State Building to ward off airplanes. His destruction in New York is completely prefigured, in shot, in the Skull Island sequences.
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BTW, take a look at Bordwell’s post, Chinese boxes, Russian dolls, and Hollywood movies. He presents two films, Passage to Marseille and The Locket, as being structured with story4, withinstory3, within story2, within story1. The innermost story (story4) contains the key the unlocks the mystery of the rest. That makes it the center point.