Stanley Kubrick’s classic reduces the horror of the Cold War into a dark but timeless comedy
In 1964 there was Vietnam, Apartheid, the Berlin wall and all other manner of shit. In 2016 we have Isis, Zika and The Magnificent Seven Remake. Fifty two years may have passed but there is still a niggling sensation that everything is fucked and we have ruined everything and it is bad and it is laundry day but the metre has not been topped up but it is Sunday so the shop’s closed — oh let it end, please let it end. So you are onfronted by two options: Find a tall building and throw yourself off, or just sort of laugh manically at it all.
So there I was prepped to hurl myself off the Arndale car park (tall, accessible) when I got an email about free tickets to a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove. Negotiating the ladders and steps towards the street I remembered vaguely watching the film a few years ago. The main things I took away from it were the following: It was black and white and had a long title. I hoped this time I would get a little bit more out of the viewing experience.
The film — in short — is about the cold war, mutual destruction, superpower nations, and thus individuals. Turns out ir is pretty sick. Stop the press! Halt production! A student newspaper endorses a critically revered film! Pointless gushing aside the screening was pretty enlightening; there was a pre-screening talk on the late set designer Ken Adam — the mind behind Dr. No’s meticulously detailed sets — and how the genuinely iconic ‘war room’ added to the ridiculousness of the authorities behind nuclear power. Each setting (the war room with the brilliantly named ‘big board,’ the cowboy occupied warplane and a rogue army base) perfectly blends a sense of damnation with an eclectic range of comedy, and Peter Sellers is so good he makes Nazism into some morbid carry-on film. Also there are so many switches, like at least twenty switches are flicked throughout this film, which is probably the best reason for seeing anything ever.
The film’s real accomplishment is, in my view, that it sees all of this chaos and pretty terrifying subject matter and sort of makes a silly face. It takes a brave filmmaker to see the men (and it’s always men) in authority and portray them as pathetic dick-swinging toddlers squabbling over their own pride. And that mocking disregard for severity translates perfectly to 2016 and its generation of millennials whose biggest cultural donation so far is a frog on a unicycle saying ‘o shit whaddup!’ 1964 and 2016 might seem worlds away but Dr Strangelove disarms the doomed nature of both years perfectly. It is not actually playing at HOME anymore since the viewing was a one off, but I am sure you can think of a way to watch it. So put down the gun, untie the noose, pull up your jeans and watch it.