Dr. Strangelove

When my parents brought  home a 62" inch DLP TV, and got a DVR for the first time, I had mixed emotions. It was so large. My friend stood back and saluted the TV, saying, "Welcome to our lives, you big behemoth." Later, I sat down and looked through the free on demand movies. I found Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, and it was the first thing I ever watched on the giant screen. To be honest, I don't remember if I had ever seen it before then. I just remember being in awe - this shockingly funny and beautiful black and white movie taking up half of my basement, while I sat huddled up and small in the corner of the couch. I think it was a perfect way to watch a movie like this. Not because you need a big TV, but a sense of wonder. I was pretty astonished at how funny it was and how great the acting was. I remember laughing at General Turgidson chewing endless amounts of gum, the antics of Dr. Strangelove's gloved hand. I was skeptical of the TV at first. "Why would anyone need something so large?" For movies like Dr. Stranglelove. For masterpieces. Now, watching a Blu-ray of the movie, I'm happy to have access to the TV, to be able to watch this and all the other films of Ebert's books in full high definition.

Of course, as tired as I am (I spent literally the whole day shopping for clothes for work, followed by grocery shopping at Whole Foods, where I took advantage of that fact that the one by my house has a full bar), I mustn't let this turn into some ode to nice TVs. I love this movie. It's one of my favorites. After watching it remastered, I think I have to buy it on Blu-ray now. I think it's one of those movies that gets better the more times you watch it. When you first see it. you're focused on trying to assemble the plot and make sense of it. For many people, it's dull - black and white, lots of talking and nonsense. I think every time I have tried to watch this with my boyfriend he has fallen asleep. Black and white makes him tired, he says. I think it does that for a lot of people, coupled with so much dialogue. But after you have seen it, and you watch it again, you can sit back and just focus on the actors. Their little facial tics, their strange motions and gestures, everything that is the backbone of this great satire. The plot isn't what is funny, to me. It's the skill of the actors, of their performances.

Ebert observes that so much of the humor of this movie comes a very simple idea, writing, "``Dr. Strangelove's'' humor is generated by a basic comic principle: People trying to be funny are never as funny as people trying to be serious and failing. The laughs have to seem forced on unwilling characters by the logic of events. A man wearing a funny hat is not funny. But a man who doesn't know he's wearing a funny hat ... ah, now you've got something" (The Great Movies, 156). The humor isn't obvious all of the time, it's all of the nuances, the strangeness.

Sometimes people bring up German surrealism when they talk about this movie, especially the strange lines of the war room. It's very surrealistic. It's odd and strange but funny and dark at the same time. The lines of the war room remind me a lot of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It has a lot of odd angles and shapes, which makes it feel very otherworldly. It's not our world. It's different. Dreamlike.

I think this movie is startlingly funny and current. It's about something I never lived through and don't know too much about, but it's hard to imagine that it was made in 1964. The satire feels modern, which is why it's a masterpiece of a movie. I'm always happy when I'm watching this, even at the end of a long, surly day.

If you haven't seen this (which I say since a lot of people I know haven't), you need to rent it. It's at Netflix, and it comes up often on demand on TV or on Netflix. It takes some getting used to, especially if you don't normally watch black and white movies (they are a bit tiring, I admit, since I always have this conception that movies in black and white are far longer than they actually run), it's worth it. Satire like this is hard to come by, and this is as good as it gets for political satire. Watch it, and if you've seen it already, you must watch it again.

Have any thoughts on Dr. Strangelove? Share them with me in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Dr. Strangelove
Trailer - it's funny, you need to click!

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