This is the summary, also know as the “Abstract,” of the dissertation, “THE LIVES OF KONG: LABOR AND MOVIEMAKING IN THREE ACTS” (2009), from which the material on this blog comes.
Investigating the globalization process called runaway production—Hollywood film studios moving film production to other countries and regions largely to avoid organized labor—is at the heart of The Lives of Kong: Labor and Moviemaking in Three Acts. It demonstrates that runaway production’s devastating impact on the majority of unionized American film workers today emerges from an often bitterly contested history. Over three distinct periods, from the 1920s to 1971, from 1972 to 1998, and from 1999 to the present, domestic and foreign film studio management, workers and their unions, artists and craftspeople, and state, federal and other nations’ government officials struggled over this issue in significantly different ways.
The re-historicizing of runaway production scholarship found in The Lives of Kong reclaims a much-needed scope for the discussion of its causes, consequences, and remedies. In addition, this study makes a unique contribution to labor history scholarship by recovering aspects of the complex breadth of the history of entertainment labor unions. The project further contributes to the nascent study of globalization’s impact on the middle and creative classes. In addition, this dissertation demonstrates how the links between film production processes and film content—a little-researched area—provide essential insight into the conditions under which runaway production emerges.
Using a multi-sited methodology appropriate to studying a globalization phenomenon, this study employs ethnographic methods, including oral history and participant-observation; along with analysis of 809 newspaper reports; and examination of production and film content analysis. The iconic 1933 film King Kong, famous for its depiction of a giant gorilla, simultaneously dramatizes an overseas American film production that goes terribly wrong. Each ensuing version, first by Dino De Laurentiis in 1976, and then by Peter Jackson in 2005, joins with the original to provide a time-specific springboard for the discussion of runaway production, including complicated portrayals of attitudes toward film work, film workers, and related explosive tensions involving race, gender and class. By re-connecting film process and product, while at the same time re-historicizing the runaway production debate, The Lives of Kong shows the efficacy of interdisciplinary approaches to the study of creative labor, leading to the potential for wide-ranging discussion of the relationships between image and power, which have public policy implications on both the national and international levels.