Godzilla has been around since the 50s. He’s grown (in size) but re­tains an elu­sive qual­ity.

Sontag: The Imagination of Disaster says es­sen­tially that af­ter the sec­ond world war a new genre of film emerges from the nu­clear threat.

The film re­flect worl­wide anx­i­eties and they serve to al­le­vi­ate them. The in­cu­late a strange ap­a­thy … haunt­ing and de­press­ing

Crossroads film dis­cov­ers that the US once filmed an atomic Bomb ex­plo­sion from 60 an­gles at once. The film ed­its them all to­gether.

This ap­petite for dis­as­ter in film goes back much fur­ther:

The Eidophusikon (1781) is an early (pre-cinema) at­tempt to bring mov­ing im­ages to au­di­ences.


The Economist Building (1964) in St James Square Here Alison and Peter Smithson cre­ate a kind of cin­e­matic il­lu­sion: Three build­ings of the same de­sign but at dif­fer­ent scales cre­ate all kinds of vi­sual ef­fects when you walk around the de­vel­op­ment. Zooming, en­larg­ing: pho­to­graphic (ie cin­e­matic) meth­ods.

The Fontainebleau Hotel (The Stairway to Nowhere) by Morris Lapidus (1954). Somewhat of a pre­cur­sor to post-mod­ernism. Here he puts a mas­sive stair­case into the foyer that leads to nowhere. Again, for cin­e­matic ef­fect.


Finally, Godjira (1954). See also trash cul­ture. The film starts with the Lucky Dragon No 5 Incident (1954), where the American’s ac­ci­den­tally dropped fall­out onto a Japanese fish­ing boat (the fish had to be buried).

One of Godzilla’s an­ces­tors, of course, is King Kong (1933) with stop mo­tion an­i­ma­tion by Willis H O’Brian. Warner re-re­leases the film in 1954, spark­ing a huge in­ter­ested in gi­ant mon­ster films, such as:

Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) with an­i­ma­tion by Harryhausen. Meanwhile in Japan: Tomoyuki Tanaka sees the two films above and com­bines them into Godjira (= Gorilla + Kujira, or whale). Special ef­fects by Eiji Tsuburaya, who in­vents the idea of mak­ing a mon­ster by putting a man into a cos­tume and film­ing him in slow mo­tion in a small-scale set. Haruo Nakajima plays Godzilla, Akira Ifukube writes the score.

Early in the film, Godzilla de­stroys the cin­ema that the film pre­miered at.

1954 poster

Two years later, an American buys the rights and com­pletely re-cuts it. The orig­i­nal has this dark, per­sonal story about guilt and loss. That’s all cut, in­stead you get re-shot scenes with Raymond Burr. They also cut all ref­er­ences to the sec­ond world war, nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment, and the fire­bomb­ing of Tokyo. This is what hap­pened to most Godzilla films at that time. This is still go­ing on: Power Rangers.

chart Godzilla grow­ing over time. Source

As a re­sult of 9/11, we have this enor­mous im­age archive of what ur­ban de­struc­tion ac­tu­ally looks like.

By the time we get to Avengers (2012), they’re get­ting very good at show­ing ur­ban de­struc­tion (and it’s clear where the de­tails come from). Pacific Rim (2013) also re­peats 9/11 im­agery.

Pacific Rim Note the fine dust. Source