Words from Zilla! [Part 1]


Words from Zilla! [Part 1]

[Some fragments from the first part of Zilla! which was on Tuesday. Some photos will arrive here very soon as well. Thanks to Ira, Greg, Alfie, Emma, Chloe, Jane, Andrea, Nahum and everyone at Shunt for being so generous with the time to make it happen. Part 2 will be late April or early May and even if you didn’t make it along to the first part you’re all more than welcome to come along.]

The earliest photographs of the city are grey or brown
The streets look comparatively empty
There were less people back then
They all look stoic
And fundamentally good
Though in all likelihood
Many of them were cruel
And angry
The sky looks bigger
And bleached out
We notice the things that are not there in the photographs
We notice the things from the photographs that are not there any more
And on occasion we marvel at how similar it all looks
How similar to us they all look
There are photographs of docks and warehouses
Of blank faces outside a factory gates
This was the time of the great captains of industry
Of slums
Of the well-meaning educators of the poor
We imagine the founding of museums
We imagine the smashing of windows
This is a time of initial initial surname
And heavy books
Maybe backstreet abortions
Sludgy brown drinking dens
And the looming threat of some war or other
They’re all so very stoic
And little do they know
That within two generations
Once everyone’s learnt to drive
Cars and trucks will mean
The docks and the warehouses are redundant
And the slums are emptied
And refilled again by people from other countries
And everyone lives in the suburbs
Or in some small town somewhere
And now we have grainy colour film
Made on simple cine-cameras
Of white shirts and pleasant dresses and thick angular glasses
In gardens in the sunshine
Holding up a glass of something
With a cocktail umbrella
And a cherry
And a smile
And a silent cheers to camera

This over here
Is the oldest part of the city
History has collected like layers of sediment
Myths and lies and misunderstandings fossilise into something
Unrecognisably substantial
There is probably a cathedral and a number of statues
There are tour groups
And mimes
You have probably seen this part of the city in a number of television dramas
National news reporters stroll through it when discussing a story that relates to the city
Much of it is cobbled
You can just imagine
People say
You can just imagine
What it was like
They line up in rows to take forced perspective shots of its major landmarks
Cupping them in giant hands
And it is beautiful
It would be hard to deny that it is beautiful
But in an appalling way
Like the spectacular horror of a public execution
Or a necklace made of bones

The first version of the film King Kong was made in 1932, the worst year of the Great Depression. By 1932 there were fifty bread lines on the Lower East Side alone, serving 50,000 meals a day. Half of New York’s manufacturing plants were closed, one in every three New Yorkers was unemployed, and roughly 1.6 million were on some form of relief. Abandonment of women and children by husbands and fathers increased 134 %, social workers reported that around a quarter of all the children in the city were malnourished. Above the ruined city rose the Empire State Building, completed only the year before in 1931. In its first years it was nicknamed the Empty State Building because no business could afford to rent space in it.

King Kong was remade in 1974. In colour. By this point New York was closer to bankruptcy than at any other time in its history. Industry had abandoned the city at the end of the 1960s. Over a million people moved away. Of those left, by 1974, 1 in 8 were on benefits. Neglected roads and bridges collapsed. Arson was rife. Murder rates had doubled in five years. In 1972 the twin towers of the World Trade centre were completed, surpassing the Empire State Building as the tallest building in the world.

In September 2001 the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were destroyed. The War on Terror began and the city remained permanently on orange alert for the next three years, indicating a ‘high risk of terrorist attack’. During that time production began on another new version of King Kong, completed in July 2005.

The disaster is not what is about to happen.
It is what is already happening.

In the opening scenes of the film
Everything is incredibly mundane
There is no one character that dominates
Or one story
Couples argue
Children play
People drink
And worry about money
They go to job interviews
And talk on the phone
There are lingering shots of anonymous people just going about their business
The sun shines
There is no music
Just the sound of traffic
And birdsong
Yet none of this feels real
Or rather, it feels real in the same way as goldfish swimming around a plastic castle
Because we’ve seen the poster
With its fires and its crashed cars and its wonky crumbling font
And we expect that this relative peace will not last
Unlike most films
We look at them
Not with them

The sun is shining
The air is thick and heavy
People wear sunglasses to work
Windows are open everywhere
People will remember very vividly what the city felt like
Not from their own memory
But from the footage of it
Used again and again to underline just what an ordinary day this was
And might have been
Today is likely to be a good day to bury bad news

I want it to be considerably bigger than the last one
I need to know everything that has happened literally as soon as it has happened
I want it to cancel celebrations
I want to be directly affected
I’m wondering which friends I could afford to lose
When I sleep I dream
of fugitive gunmen
And fires
And distant rumbles
And nuclear meltdown
And a major terrorist incident
And airstrikes
And monsoons
And dinosaurs
And alligators in sewers
And fire and brimstone
And falling cities
Something is happening
Something is actually happening


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