Wednesday, September 7, 2011
DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB
(January 1964, U.S.)
Stanley Kubrick is my favorite film director of all time. I think I've been pretty clear about that in the past. DR. STRANGELOVE is one of those rare films that I'm, frankly, very much in love with. One of those rare films I couldn't live without if I were stranded on a desert island. One of those rare films that I have so much to say about, that I find myself almost stuck with how to begin or what to actually say. But, rest assured, I eventually shut up, wise up and speak up so I can effectively express myself the way I seek to with my blogs (that's why we're both here!).
This was a film I discovered by accident on television when I was a teenager and just starting to learn about Kubrick's career as well as the appreciation for black and white classic films. Let's begin with a question that requires a little imagination - what must it have been like to try and make a black comedy film which satirized the American nuclear scare during the early 1960s that was dominated by the threat of the Cold War? Imagine what it must have seemed like to pitch that idea to Columbia Pictures. My only possible answer to all of this is, "Hey, it's fucking Stanley Kubrick! Anything's possible!" The story (if you're really THAT clueless!) concerns the very unhinged United States Air Force general Jack Ripper (played by Sterling Hayden) who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Why? Because he's deluded himself into thinking that a secret Communist plot of introducing a foreign substance into the drinking water and into his "precious bodily fluids" is responsible for his impotence and possibly his tendency toward homosexuality (yes, that's right - the world is about to end because a potential gay man can't get it up!). It also follows the President of the United States (played by Peter Sellers), his advisors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a Royal Air Force (RAF) officer as they try to recall the bombers to prevent a nuclear apocalypse. It also separately follows the crew of one B-52 bomber as they try to ultimately deliver their nuclear payload against their target in Russia. Sounds pretty grim and frightening, right? Well, fear not because it's funny, funny, funny! It's funny dialogue that never gets boring and never disappoints. It's funny because Peter Sellers famously plays three roles effectively (the President of the United States, the Royal Air Force exchange officer and the ever-crazy Dr. Strangelove himself!) and you can't decide which character is more loony that the other. It's funny because George C. Scott as the gung-ho, "let's kill em' all!" General Buck Turgidson is in his best role that easily surpasses PATTON (1970). It's funny because the above-metnioned B-52 aircraft commander Major T. J. "King" Kong (played by Slim Pickens) is just as gung-ho crazy as Turgidson whose final act before the world ends is riding the missle striking Russia like a wild bronco. Now THAT'S what I call a true American patriot! The film's final montage of nuclear detonations across the world, accompanied by Vera Lynn's recording of "We'll Meet Again" is not quite as funny as the rest of the film, but a grim and harsh reminder of what we were and what we're still capable of doing to this planet of ours.
During the filming of DR. STRANGELOVE, Kubrick learned that another film, FAIL-SAFE (1964), with a similar theme, was being produced. Although Sidney Lumet's film was to be an ultra-realistic thriller, he feared that its plot resemblance would damage his film's box office potential, especially if it were released first. Kubrick decided to throw a legal wrench into the other film's production gears and it worked, too. FAIL-SAFE opened eight months behind DR. STRANGELOVE, to critical acclaim but (unfortunately) mediocre ticket sales. Almost reminds me of the battle of asteroid films between two studios during the Summer of 1998 (DEEP IMPACT and ARMAGEDDON).
When I was a freshman in college, I took a class called History After 1945. It was an excellent class that often focussed on media and pop culture as well as political and historical events. One night, the professor showed us DR. STRANGELOVE during the period of discussion that involved the Cold War. When it was over, the essay question was simply, "Why did I show this film?" Well, d-u-u-h-h! You'll be happy to know I got an A (minus) on the paper (pat on my back!)
DR. STRANGELOVE is my second favorite Stanley Kubrick film. We still haven't gotten to my favorite yet. Stay with me to find out...
Favorite line or dialogue:
President Merkin Muffley (to Soviet Premier Kissoff): "Hello?...Uh...Hello D- uh hello Dmitri? Listen uh uh I can't hear too well. Do you suppose you could turn the music down just a little?...Oh-ho, that's much better...yeah...huh...yes...Fine, I can hear you now, Dmitri...Clear and plain and coming through fine...I'm coming through fine, too, eh?...Good, then...well, then, as you say, we're both coming through fine...Good...Well, it's good that you're fine and...and I'm fine...I agree with you, it's great to be fine...a-ha-ha-ha-ha...Now then, Dmitri, you know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb...The Bomb, Dmitri...The hydrogen bomb!...Well now, what happened is...ahm...one of our base commanders, he had a sort of...well, he went a little funny in the head...you know...just a little...funny. And, ah...he went and did a silly thing...Well, I'll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes...to attack your country...Ah...Well, let me finish, Dmitri...Let me finish, Dmitri...Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?...Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dmitri?... Why do you think I'm calling you? Just to say hello?...Of course I like to speak to you!...Of course I like to say hello!...Not now, but anytime, Dmitri. I'm just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened...It's a friendly call. Of course it's a friendly call...Listen, if it wasn't friendly...you probably wouldn't have even got it...They will not reach their targets for at least another hour...I am...I am positive, Dmitri...Listen, I've been all over this with your ambassador. It is not a trick...Well, I'll tell you. We'd like to give your air staff a complete run-down on the targets, the flight plans, and the defensive systems of the planes...Yes! I mean i-i-i-if we're unable to recall the planes, then...I'd say that, ah...well, ah...we're just gonna have to help you destroy them, Dmitri...I know they're our boys...All right, well listen now. Who should we call?...Who should we call, Dmitri? The...wha-whe, the People...you, sorry, you faded away there...The People's Central Air Defense Headquarters...Where is that, Dmitri?...In Omsk...Right...Yes...Oh, you'll call them first, will you?...Uh-huh...Listen, do you happen to have the phone number on you, Dmitri?...Whe-ah, what? I see, just ask for Omsk information...Ah-ah-eh-uhm-hm...I'm sorry, too, Dmitri...I'm very sorry...All right, you're sorrier than I am, but I am as sorry as well...I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri! Don't say that you're more sorry than I am, because I'm capable of being just as sorry as you are...So we're both sorry, all right?...All right".