Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Blind Spot 2016: Dr. Strangelove

For me, Kubrick hits more than he misses. When he misses for me, though, he misses huge. I absolutely despised my experiences with his two films from the 1970s, A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon. Granted, the former I haven't seen since college when I was burnt out by all the college boy praise it got. And the latter I only saw once and simply could not hang with its slow pace and unbearable runtime. It's beautiful, but...just no.

Luckily, Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is right up my alley. A huge Kubrick hit for me. Mr. Kubrick, now on a sort of streak with my recent viewing of his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, the film I honestly believe to be his best, at this point.

Dr. Strangelove is everything I've been led to believe it would be and more. While some of the early build up drags just a tiny bit or my taste, it eventually picked up and never let go. The second and third acts making up most likely the best political satire of all-time. I agree with that sort of hyperbole.

Granted, it's a film I need to see again. I knew that five minutes after I turned it off, even after I went back to re-watch the final scene, a shifty piece of cutting that I'm still not sure I understand. I'll have no problem going back. For one reason. Peter Sellers. His work here is the stuff of legend, and he ended up, as I read, not even playing the fourth character, the Texan fighter pilot played in the final film by Slim Pickens (no complaints there). It is amazing watching him play these characters...

...The terrified RAF Officer Mandrake, essentially kidnapped by Sterling Hayden's delusional paranoid maniac General Jack D. Ripper, who would destroy the world because of water fluoridation. The weakling POTUS Merkin Muffley, ready to give the Russians his first born, much less his own soldiers lives, for the sake of not launching bombs. The Nazi nuclear war advisor, Dr. Strangelove himself, lurking in and out of the shadows, talking out of the side of his mouth, no control of even his limbs.

So, here's Peter Sellers with three of the greatest comedic performances of all-time, and I haven't even gotten to George C. Scott's singly shape-shifting performance as Gen. "Buck" Turgidson. My God! He's so good. Chewing up scenery with his face alone. Then, he speaks. It's just so great.

Kubrick is so on the nose with this movie, it's a wonder it works so well. I mean, the characters' names themselves are so obvious a lesser filmmaker would be burned at the stake for even suggesting making such pointed satire. But what he brings is a confidence. I think that's what people like about Kubrick. He never seems to do anything at any moment but exactly what he wants. In that, we, as movie lovers, get to decide, more easily on our own terms, which ones to love and hate. It doesn't matter that I hate A Clockwork Orange and you love it. It can't be denied that it's a great film. Same for Barry Lyndon. Same for The Shining. Easily the same for 2001. I mean, even the old has-beens who walked out on that one, I'm sure, couldn't argue that it was the work of a free-reigning master.

I would imagine that some people would hate the seeming unevenness, especially on a first viewing, of Dr. Strangelove. I hardly laughed until about half an hour in, unsure if it would even work at all as comedy. Then, as I said, it just did. It always worked visually. The intricacy of the B-52, all the buttons and switches and codes and repeating of buttons and switches and codes and the flipping of buttons and switches and codes. In the detail, I felt the Kubrick touch in Wes Anderson. How the camera zooms in on a detail immediately after a voice describes the detail. I saw shades of what Kubrick would do with the space vessels in 2001 (and how that would inform Nolan's Interstellar) in the early exterior shots of the plane, the way the classical music moves the film along maybe even more so than the editing, which seems almost inconsistent.

Whatever the shortcomings of Dr. Strangelove, if any, it is helped by the fact that we still fully understand the misguided attempts by our politicians to continue fighting wars, even under the guise of NOT wanting that. We understand that there's most likely a Gen. Turgidson out there worried that our series of bunkers may not be bigger than our enemy's. And, even worse, I fear that, in our current reality, there probably isn't enough "fighting in the war room."


12 comments:

  1. Great review! I haven't seen this either but it's one I'm sure I will some day. I haven't seen A Clockwork Orange since I was a teen, I barely remember it. I'm behind with my Kubrick too. lol

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    1. Thanks! A Clockwork Orange is just overrated. Probably should watch it again, but.... I'm only a few films away (his old stuff) to being a Kubrick completist.

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  2. This movie is pretty great, indeed...but Barry Lyndon and A Clockwork Orange are better!!!

    LOL, Kubrick is one of those directors who MANY people debate and disagree on because he was so...Kubrick. I have friends who LOATHE him and others who consider him the greatest director of all times. The more I rest on his filmography the more I realize that I probably consider him one of the greatest, or at least most versatile and consistent. I mean, anyone who can deliver a sharp satire like this, a witty sex comedy like Lolita, a beautiful literary epic like Barry Lyndon, a space opera like 2001, a horror like The Shining and one of the more poignant war films of our times, Full Metal Jacket deserves our hats off.

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    1. It's funny. I haven't been involved in a Kubrick debate...ever. For me, he's just a hit and miss sort of filmmaker. I loathe some of his films, but I would side on him being one of the greatest. I can't imagine anyone successfully making the argument that he is a bad filmmaker, which was my point in this piece. His range itself, as you mention, is amazing enough in itself.

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  3. Glad you got so much out of this, I'm not an ardent fan but I like the film. That was not the case after my first viewing. At that point I didn't hate it but it left me cold and I didn't see what all the shouting was about but gave it some time and rewatched since it was obviously the sort of film that requires that.

    I appreciate its uniqueness while not being able to embrace it fully. It is an amazing almost exhausting showcase for Sellers who is up to the challenge as is my beloved George C. Scott but my favorite performance in the entire picture is what amounts to a cameo-Keenan Wynn's brief unhinged Col. Bat Guano.

    I'm with you completely on Clockwork Orange which I absolutely loathed. Now Barry Lyndon I'm just indifferent too. It was too stately and dull to engender my hatred just my boredom, and I've tried to give it multiple changes but it's never been anything more to me but static very pretty pictures.

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    1. What you said about Barry Lyndon...yes! I fully agree. I think what inspires hatred is how much high praise it gets. Now, I'm a bit older and more patient now and could watch it again. I'll give it that much. But runtime and pace are biggies for me.

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  4. Sigh. I'm similar to you when it comes to Kubrick. I usually love his work, but when he misses it's a BIG miss. For me, this is one of those misses. Before ever seeing it, I heard all about it and it seems like it would be right up my alley. When I watched it...nothing. Didn't connect. I tried two more times, still nothing. It has been five or six years since my last crack at it. Maybe I'll give it another go, but I'm not really pressed about it. If it helps...or even if it doesn't, this isn't the biggest Kubrick miss for me. That would be the iconic 2001. Ugh. I love A Clockwork Orange, but I still need to see Barry Lyndon. Guess I'll do that sometime soon.

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    1. I think even this one, man, like all of Kubrick's films, starting with this one, hold you at such a distance that it's hard to connect. I had a few starts and quits with this one over the years before I finally did it on this one. I feel you on your issue. I just finally got the excellent satirical humor this time. I got what the people have been talking about.

      I should give A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon another go someday...

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  5. I've definitely been meaning to watch this. I bought the Criterion of this in July, & I really want to watch this, but I haven't got to it yet. Hopefully, I will soon, maybe this week.

    Also, I haven't seen any of Stanley Kubrick's other films, but I plan to watch many of his films soon.

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    1. It's pretty dang good.

      You need to see The Shining like yesterday, my friend. Get on it! It's the right month for it.

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  6. I'm such a big fan of Dr. Strangelove. I watched it in a high school film class (20 years ago!), which helped to get some of the in-jokes that I may have missed at that point. It holds up so well, especially given our current environment. Glad you were able to see it!

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    1. I wish my high school (15 years ago!) had had a film class. This seems to be a film that needs a bit of study and guidance. Glad I got to see it!

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