King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 14, 2008

If you?ve already seen King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, I?d suggest reading Jason Scott?s pair of posts about the movie. In The King of Wrong, Scott suggests that the filmmakers left out crucial details and fudged others in order to make the actual events fit the story they were trying to tell.

What I?m saying here is that a good percentage of what makes the documentary ?good? are made up conflicts, inaccurate reporting, smoothed-over narratives that are meant to make you root for one side or hate the other, when in fact reality doesn?t hold up to these allegations. The whole point of the narrative is that Steve is wronged, denied his rightful place in the record books because of internal machinations. But he had the championship for 3 years! He had played Billy one-on-one. Billy was not on this campaign to cut Steve off at the knees at every turn so to humiliate him and dismiss him, to his own aggrandizement.

In a follow-up post, Scott elaborates on his poor opinion of the film, drawing upon his experience making a documentary about another nerd subculture, the BBS.

Is Billy Mitchell ?real?? I have no doubt that he says things that are over the top. I have no question that he goes off the rails on certain subjects. I also know that if you interview people for hours on end, at various days, you will get some pretty crazy stuff. How you choose to deal with that stuff is a little bit of who you are as an interviewer and editor and director. There?s no question you can ?filter for crazy?, or ?filter for nice?, or filter for whatever the hell you wish to. I never claim that Billy?s not capable of throwing out whoppers. I?m saying that when you lace his words with an implication of malice, of cheating, of lying to stay on top, then you are moving into caricature and needless trashing of a real person to achieve your goals. Chasing Ghosts has Billy Mitchell and a whole other range of players, and gives you the story without turning the whole experience of video games, and arcades, into a petty small-minded pissing match.

Scott nearly comes off as holier-than-thou about the standards that documentary filmmakers should be held to, but he clearly put his money where his mouth is when filming his BBS documentary. After a rough interview with Thom Henderson, a controversial figure in the compression software community, which interview caused Henderson to recall, with pain, a particularly difficult period in his life, Scott offered him the chance to edit it out of the movie?and something else too:

But you know, when I put together the ARC-ZIP episode (later renamed COMPRESSION) and sent it to him to see, I told him flat out. ?If you?re not comfortable with this, if you don?t like it, let me know and it won?t go in.? He wrote back and said he and his wife were fine with it. I then told him I was giving him irrevocable, permanent rights to the film such that he could distribute and copy and even sell it however he pleased. He?s the only other person besides myself with any rights to my films. He has it for download from his site to this day.

I enjoyed King of Kong, but reading that some of the movie?s tension was manufactured sure takes the polish off of it for me.

Update: The Onion AV Club has an interview with Billy Mitchell about the movie and his take on it.

I invited [Steve Wiebe] to the Classic Gaming Expo, 2004. I invited him there, and I went up to speak onstage, as I do at each expo there. When I went up and spoke onstage, I called him to the stage, in order to honor him. I unveiled the poster in his honor, honoring his accomplishments. I did that in 2004. He was onstage with me. And I?m sorry to tell you that you can?t see that, ?cause they forgot to put that in the movie.