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Old October 24 2012, 04:59 PM   #23
J.T.B.'s Avatar
Re: Stanley Kubrick marathon

Evil Headhunter wrote: View Post
While Paths of Glory is Kubrick's first great film and Lolita is Kubrick's first controversial film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb becomes Kubrick's first controversial yet brilliant film. A real masterpiece.
Agreed. Maybe my favorite movie ever, saw it on the big screen again this past summer.

From the very beginning of this film, one can tell that this would be an unique production. The opening credits breaks away from the traditional block letters in favor of a font that looks handwritten (I'm blanking on the font's name but it's fairly popular these days).
I don't know aout the font's name, but it was hand-lettered by graphic artist Pablo Ferro. When I was getting into this movie in my teens I was also into the new Talking Heads movie Stop Making Sense and, what do you know, same Ferro title design. Pretty cool, I thought.

What really drives this film other than Kubrick's great directing is the amazing performances by Peter Sellers as Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and the eponymous Dr. Strangelove. Sellers was also set to perform Maj. Kong despite his own hesitations to properly deliver a Southern accent, but ultimately dropped the performance when he sprained his ankle and couldn't get in the cockpit. Nonetheless, Sellers masterfully performs each of these characters to give each of them distinctive personalities. Each of these characters define and carry the film from beginning to end (in fact, if Sellers had performed Kong, he would have been in nearly every scene of the film).
It would have been fun to see Sellers doing another character, but I suspect the movie was better with Pickens. He was kind of over the top, but that was really part of his personality that came out in a lot of his roles. Sellers wouldn't have had his authenticity, I don't think.

As fun as Sellers and Scott are to watch, my favorite performance is still Sterling Hayden. The straighter-than-straight way he delivers some of his bizarre lines and his intense sincerity in his strange heart-to-heart with Mandrake still crack me up.

An interesting aspect in this film that I don't think is completely explored is the trust to follow orders without question, not just to the total destruction, but also firing upon fellow Americans out of fear and/or misdirection of the enemy. The President sends in troops to storm Gen. Ripper's base in order to get to Gen. Ripper by any means. Ripper's men have standing orders to fire on anyone who comes within a certain distance of the base and barely question who is attacking them, simply assuming it's a big Communist ruse because of the communication blackout.
And how do you question orders when communicating doesn't work? The movie is one communication breakdown after another: the base blackout, the CRM-114, the Soviet premier unavailable and then drunk, the long-distance operator and Col. Guano.

Due to the limitations of technology of the time, Kubrick is forced to be creative on several occasions which only gives the film a more dramatic effect. When the B-52 plane is chased by a Russian missile, much of drama comes following the crews reactions and a simple view of the RADAR. Additionally, whenever there's an exterior shot of the plane or a view from the cockpit, the viewer sees the background moving faster than perhaps it should but this gives a farcical dramatic effect to these scenes.
Though some parts of the movie are farcical (character names, some dialogue), the background and settings tend to look realistic and serious. The B-52 bomber was still top secret at the time, and the sets art director Ken Adam designed for the interior of the plane turned out to be so close to reality it was said that he got a visit from the FBI.

I agree that the determined and matter-of-fact way the crew makes their bomb run turns out great for building tension. The intercom sound distorting and breaking up as they are hit by the missile blast is a great touch.

The model-and-rear-projection effects for the bomber exterior are somewhat lacking by today's standards, but some great looking aerial arctic second-unit footage makes up for it a little. And even though it is not very realistic looking, it is miles ahead of the mis-matched stock footage used in "Strangelove's" contemporary, Fail Safe (which is also a really good movie).

Lastly, I'm amused that Kubrick skillfully uses a shaky camera during the combat scenes on the airbase, decades before the effect became common practice, much to many's dismay.
And a couple of years before The Battle of Algiers, which got so much notice for using the newsreel/documentary look in a fictional movie. The air base combat scenes are very reminiscent of parts of Full Metal Jacket later on.

Kubrick really got all his strengths together in a full package for Dr Strangelove. Brilliant.

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