Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Olde Review: Dr. Strangelove

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

"Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)

"I can no longer allow...Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion...and the international Communist sap and impurify...all of our precious bodily fluids!"

Stanley Kubrick was sitting, working out the first draft of a screen-play based on the nuclear thriller "Red Alert" by Peter George, he came to a scene in which the President of the United States gives out secret information to the Russians in order that they may stop a squad of U.S. B-52's before they can drop their nuclear payload on the USSR and instigate world-wide destruction. Kubrick decided to throw it out because audiences would laugh at such an implausible occurrence. But, as he went along, Kubrick found himself throwing away more and more important plot developments, and slowly peeling away his story.

A fine story it was, too. A lower echelon general goes mad and mis-uses a government-approved contingency plan that would allow him to make nuclear war decisions in the event that Washington D.C. were destroyed. It is up to the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to stop the General and obtain the code that will stop the B-52 attack on Russia.

Kubrick solved his dilemma with an almost suicidally daring decision--to treat this thriller as a comedy,a nightmare comedy where the grins are the same as produced by rigor mortis. So, have the mad general attack Russia because of their plot to fluoridate our waters and turn the men impotent. Turn the B-52 commander into a Stetson-sporting "Hot Damn!" baboon. Make the head of the Joint Chiefs a gravel-voiced reactionary and a sex maniac. And turn almost every communication device in the film against them. Then turn the title into "Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb."

This decision let Kubrick have his cake and eat it, too, for not only is "Strangelove" funny, but it is, at the same time, the skillfully realized edge-of-your-seat thriller it originally was. And the comedy aspects cast a realization of what an insane situation the nuclear "stand-off" is. Despite the characterizations, Kubrick managed to pull to present a completely factual account of a possible nuclear accident, right down to the equipment in the B-52's. It is all plausible no matter how broadly drawn the characters (and the Air Force disclaimer at the beginning of the film only adds fuel to this argument). As is Kubrick's style, the most horrendous occurrences will happen and Kubrick will sit back and watch, for his films, by this time in his career, had become cold observations taken, as some have commented, from the view of some extra-terrestrial life, not human, and unmoved by what he sees...with a definite slant, but without a heart.*

And so the comedy bill in 130 Kane is a full one--a perverse comedy of warmth and sweetness and a perverse comedy of cold and destruction--and both excellent in each other's way.

Broadcast on KCMU on Januray 7th, 1977

* That's a pretty tortured last 'graph, and I think I put it there just to have that final statement contrasting "Young Frankenstein" and "Dr. Strangelove."

I no longer think "Dr. Strangelove" is cold. I think it presents the case and lets the viewer decide. But that stratagem is ham-strung by Kubrick's decision to make it a comedy (he felt that it was going to be laughable no matter what he did, so making it a romp would make it, at the least, entertaining--all the hewing to fact is for naught if you have an audience resenting the lecture). But the best part of "Dr. Strangelove" is the coda, where plans are made to maintain the status quo, despite that policy leading down the path of total annihilation. The scenarists in power take the situation and find out how to make the best of it (usually for them), completely devoid of accountability and conscience or any sense of responsibility for its part in the disaster. It's all about self-justification.

And all it takes is one mad man to set the intricate death-trap in motion.

"Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" is timeless.

And should be required viewing every election year.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

No comments: