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The Writer’s Almanac for October 31, 2017: Repression

October 31, 2017: birthday: Peter Jackson

Today is the birthday of filmmaker Peter Jackson, born in Pukerua Bay, New Zealand (1961). He’s best known for his Oscar-winning adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, but he was first inspired to go into filmmaking by the 1933 monster classic King Kong, which he saw when he was nine years old. “I think I still have a rotting puppet of King Kong somewhere in my basement,” he said. “It was about a foot high. Then I made a cardboard cutout of the Empire State Building for him to stand on, and I painted a backdrop of Manhattan.” He used his parents’ Super-8 movie camera to make home movies featuring his toys and models, with neighborhood kids in acting roles.

Jackson dropped out of high school when he was 16 and went to work full-time to finance his filmmaking passion. He bought a professional-grade camera and recruited his friends to act in a comedy about flesh-eating aliens, which he worked on on his days off. Grants from the New Zealand Film Commission enabled him to quit work and finish the film, now called Bad Taste, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988.

His overwhelming success with The Lord of the Rings — a story Jackson first read and loved when he was a teenager — paved the way for him to realize his childhood dream: a remake of King Kong. “I didn’t really give an intellectual thought about what I should change around; it was more emotional,” he said, when he was asked what he changed in his version. “I really was a huge Kong fan, to be simple about it. If somebody else made a remake of King Kong today, I’d be first in line in the cinema with my bag of popcorn in the front row […] because it’s my favorite movie and I’d love to see what they could do today […] But at the end of the day, for me, it’s very selfish because all that I’m ultimately trying to achieve is to make the movie that I want to go see. And that’s what this film is.” Jackson’s version was released in 2005.