May 25, 2003

Eyes Wide Open
I started a little journey down Stanley Kubrick movies, by completing a viewing of Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb and beginning to read Kubrick's biography by John Baxter. Full Metal Jacket should follow very soon. This post comes on the heels of George's mention of this movie (will cross-link when I get a chance). Being my first complete viewing of a Kubrickian film, I was quite eager to see what set him apart from the rest. With the book at hand, I hoped to get more insights into this (both) acclaimed and notorious director.

George mentions how Kubrick's film leave the burden of interpretation to the viewer. It is clear that in the Kubrick movie, dialogues are subservient to the visual frame and technique is the object of adulation. The book throws light on this and further: Kubrick's beginnings as a still photographer, his ice-cool method and treating the actors as puppets, to do his bidding. The outcome of these traits have been the legendary aim to perfectionism, countless re-takes, wrangles over crediting in the writing. It always struck me how most (if not all) Kubrick movies were based on books: 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, The Shining by Stephen King, Lolita by Nabokov and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess being the most famous examples. The book describes how Kubrick was considered in his early years as the "genius in waiting" and the obvious replacement for "the obstreperous Orson Welles". He did complete justice to these labels with his reclusive and temperamental behaviour.

I must confess to being a little disappointed by Dr. Strangelove, it had its brilliant moments with the famed "You can't fight in here, this is the War Room" dialogues, the nuggets of referential names (Ambassador DeSadesky, Capn Kong and of course Jack D. Ripper) spiked with more than a sprinkle of innuendo, the innovative camera-work (for that era, especially, back projections notwithstanding) and the fascinating Pentagon War Room sets being the highlights. Curiously, Dr. Strangelove is granted very little footage as compared to the other Sellers roles (Peter Sellers has a triple role: the US President, Lionel Mandrake of the RAF & Dr. S himself: he was to do a fourth, but refused). Even more because the scenes with the evil Nazi crackpot scientist with the mechanical hand that has a mind of its own are chilling and positively sinister. It is not difficult to take in even such farcical situations if such characters actually existed. Also my first encounter with George C. Scott (who is more noted for Patton) as the plausible virulently anti-Commie American. One scene involving the British officer Mandrake crawling on the floor following the crazed American Ripper seems rather topical right now: the British having no clue what the Americans have got them into, but being obligated to follow them around like lackeys. I don't think it was intended, but it seems rather relevant even today.

Another aspect that appeals is the abundant tidbits for a student of trivia.

Post Script:
At the local library, apt coincidences beckoned and I accepted in the spirit of things: picked up a biography of Peter Sellers, not too innovatively named Mr. Strangelove, plus a re-read of A Clockwork Orange by Burgess.

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