A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, September 19, 2016

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)

In 1964, Stanley Kubrick told us that the world would end not with a whimper but a "Yeehaaa!" And given the bullying and posturing jingoism currently on display in the American presidential campaign, he may have been right. A lot of Dr. Strangelove has dated: There is no Soviet Union anymore, and the arms race has gone underground (where it may be more dangerous than ever). Some of the gags in the script by Kubrick, Peter George, and Terry Southern have gone stale, such as the jokey character names: Jack D. Ripper, "Bat" Guano, Merkin Muffley. (Although to fault Dr. Strangelove for that is as pointless as faulting Ben Jonson for naming characters in The Alchemist Sir Epicure Mammon and Doll Common. Satire loves its labels.) Where Dr. Strangelove has not dated, however, is in its attitude toward power and those who love and seek it to the point where it becomes an end in itself. Those in Kubrick's film who are capable of seeing the larger picture are ineffectual, like President Muffley (Peter Sellers) and Group Capt. Mandrake (Sellers). They are invariably steamrollered by those in pursuit of the immediate goal, like Gen. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) defending his precious bodily fluids, or Gen. Turgidson (George C. Scott) devoting himself to getting the upper hand on the Russkies, even to the extent of getting our hair mussed a little, or Dr. Strangelove (Sellers) himself, enraptured by the wonders of military technology. But the film really works by Kubrick's mastery of his medium: We find ourselves, against our better judgment, rooting for the bomber crew to reach its target, thanks to the way Kubrick, with the help of film editor Anthony Harvey, manipulates our love of war movie clichés. The film is full of classic over-the-top performances, especially from Hayden and Scott, and of course Sellers's Strangelove is a touchstone mad scientist character, anticipating Edward Teller's selling Ronald Reagan on "star wars" by a couple of decades. In fact, if the film seems to us have dated, it may be that reality has outstripped satire. Who could have invented Donald Trump?

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