Sunday, November 19, 2006

DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB


Satire of the week:
DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB

Oh how I love this movie! I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that this is, unarguably, the best comedy ever made. I know that the American Film Institute has ranked it as the 3rd best comedy, after Some Like it Hot and Tootsie, but they were obviously smoking crack at the time, and as such, can't be faulted for their error (in its defense, “Some Like it Hot” does feature Marilyn Monroe in her hey-day).

As I’ve said in the past, political satire is hard to do. Yes, it's easy to poke fun at a moron, or at easy and obvious targets, but to satirize a system, or at ourselves, and do it well, takes a very subtle hand. Luckily, Stanley Kubrick does.

At a time when the world stood inches away from nuclear oblivion, the world put its trust in the technology that controlled it all, and especially what was known as the "fail-safe" system. That is, a protocol which would supposedly prevent the accidental launching of nuclear warfare. DR. STRANGELOVE depicts a scenario in which nuclear war is triggered, not by accident, but on purpose. An insane general, convinced that America was under attack by a Russian plot to destroy our "precious bodily fluids" by water fluoridation, launches a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The planes are difficult to call off because of the same fail-safe system that's supposed to prevent such a situation.

The president (played by Peter Sellers) and the joint chiefs convene in the war room and consult with the Russian premiere by phone, trying to divert disaster. Meanwhile, a British major (also played by Peter Sellers) tries to pry the secret codes from the crazy general. Can they stop the last plane before it drops the big one and triggers the "doomsday device"? If not, the world will end, but Dr. Strangelove (also played by Peter Sellers) has a plan.

Well, Frank, that doesn't sound very funny.

But it is. It's hilarious. As it happens, I lived through the time period where this story takes place. Nuclear war was a very real and looming fear. We depended entirely on the sanity of our leaders and the technology that protected us. There were just so many ways it could go wrong. This movie pointed out the absurdity of everything we trusted. It made us laugh at our situation and at ourselves, and after that, we just didn't put our trust blindly any more. The stress of watching the "doomsday clock" tick ever closer to midnight was somehow lightened. Laughter is a powerful thing. I truly believe that the ability to laugh at our situation and ourselves is a key element in the survival of the human species. People who are unable to laugh at themselves are generally very angry and unhappy (Hitler couldn't laugh at himself - he took himself way too seriously). Unfortunately, way too many people, even today, just can't take a joke. Too bad.

Stanley Kubrick didn't make very many movies during his career, but each one is a masterpiece. And at least two of them are among my top 10 movies of all time (including this one). Look here at his credits to see what I mean. Make no doubt about it, this is one extraordinarily funny movie. Peter Sellers is outstanding in all three of his roles (especially as Dr. Strangelove), and he got an Oscar nomination that year for this film. Slim Pickens has perhaps the most famous and memorable scene from the film (even if you've never seen this movie, you'll recognize the scene because it was copied and parodied many times). George C. Scott, not normally known as a comedic actor, delivers pitch perfect, over-the-top absurdity throughout. It was his own favorite performance.

Here are some fun facts about DR. STRANGELOVE.

  1. The film "Fail Safe" came out that same year, with basically the same plot. But it was a totally serious film - not funny! .... and who remembers it?
  2. The fear that drinking water fluoridation was a communist plot to weaken America, was very real during the 50's and 60's, and the "anti-reds" fought against it vehemently. Imagine that! Today, that movement would be headed by Rush Limbaugh.
  3. India and Pakistan have the bomb. North Korea has it, and Iran is on the verge of having the bomb. It's time to start laughing at nuclear war all over again.
  4. "Gentlemen you can't fight in here – this is the war room"
  5. Peter Sellers was supposed to play a fourth role, that of Maj. T.J. 'King' Kong, the B52 commander. He couldn't get the accent just right, and when it came time to shoot the scenes, he faked a broken ankle to get out of it. The role was eventually played by Slim Pickens. They didn't tell him it was a comedy and he played it totaly straight and serious - which made it all the more funny.
  6. See if you can recognize a young James Earl (Darth Vader) Jones in his film debut.
  7. Kubrick initially wanted to end the film with a pie fight (a la Three Stooges) in the war room, but opted instead to blow up the world. He figured it would be funnier - he was right.
  8. Ranks #19 in IMDB's Top 250 Movies, between City of God and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. That's pretty good company .......... for THEM.
  9. Scored a 100% on the tomatometer.
  10. Appears in Steven Jay Schneider’s book, “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”. Let's go - you're not getting any younger.
  11. Despite its dark premise, it can be safely viewed by all.

Rent DR. STRANGELOVE this week. Laughter is healthy. So is flax seed, but this is funner.
Enjoy.

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