Archive for the ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)’ Category

Spine #821

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: The Criterion Collection

Release Date: June 28, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 1:34:58

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: Uncompressed Original English Mono Audio

Alternate Audio: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio English Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.66:1

Bitrate: 28.50 Mbps

Notes: A 2-Disc DVD edition of this ‘Criterion’ title is also available. ‘Sony Picture Classics’ previously releases this film on Blu-ray, but the transfer is slightly less impressive and it doesn’t contain nearly as many supplemental features.

Title

“I started out being completely unfamiliar with any of the professional literature in the field of nuclear deterrence. I was at first very impressed with how subtle some of the work was—at least so it seemed starting out with just a primitive concern for survival and a total lack of any ideas of my own. Gradually I became aware of the almost wholly paradoxical nature of deterrence or as it has been described, the Delicate Balance of Terror. If you are weak, you may invite a first strike. If you are becoming too strong, you may provoke a pre-emptive strike. If you try to maintain the delicate balance, it’s almost impossible to do so mainly because secrecy prevents you from knowing what the other side is doing, and vice versa, ad infinitum…” -Stanley Kubrick (as quoted by Alexander Walker in “Stanley Kubrick, Director: A Visual Analysis”)

The paradox described by Kubrick is the basis of what may very well be his finest feature. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, is an incisive and unflinching satire that contains ingredients that nearly everyone can enjoy. Kubrick bombards the audience with irreverent humor that includes plenty of sexual innuendo and toilet humor. (The entire framework of the film is sexual… beginning with intercourse [a bomber re-fueling] and ending with orgasm [bombs exploding].)

The Opening Title Sequence

The film’s sexual framework is apparent in the fabulous opening credit sequence.

However, the dark and bone-dry satirical elements combined with shrewd observations about the more ridiculous patterns of human behavior are what sets Strangelove apart from other comedies. Actually, the film was originally conceived as a serious thriller.

“As I tried to build the detail for a scene I found myself tossing away what seemed to me to be very truthful insights because I was afraid the audience would laugh. After a few weeks of this I realized that these incongruous bits of reality were closer to the truth than anything else I was able to imagine. After all, what could be more absurd than the very idea of two mega-powers willing to wipe out all human life because of an accident, spiced up by political differences that will seem as meaningless to people a hundred years from now as the theological conflicts of the Middle Ages appear to us today?” -Stanley Kubrick (as quoted by Alexander Walker in “Stanley Kubrick, Director: A Visual Analysis)

Instead of forcing the film to conform to his original intentions, Kubrick changed his intentions to better fit his subject matter. This made all the difference in the world.

“…In culling the incongruous, it seemed to me to be less stylized and more realistic than any so-called serious, realistic treatment, which in fact is more stylized than life itself by its careful exclusion of the banal, the absurd, and the incongruous. In the context of impending world destruction, hypocrisy, misunderstanding, lechery, paranoia, ambition, euphemism, patriotism, heroism, and even reasonableness can evoke a grisly laugh.” -Stanley Kubrick (as quoted by Thomas Allen Nelson in “Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze”)

Perhaps the laughs were too grisly for certain viewers. Critical reception at the time was somewhat positive, but praise was given with a certain amount of reservation. Bosley Crowther’s review for the New York Times is one case in point.

“Stanley Kubrick’s new film, called Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, is beyond any question the most shattering sick joke I’ve ever come across. And I say that with full recollection of some of the grim ones I’ve heard from Mort Sahl, some of the cartoons I’ve seen by Charles Addams and some of the stuff I’ve read in Mad Magazine.

For this brazenly jesting speculation of what might happen within the Pentagon and within the most responsible council of the President of the United States if some maniac Air Force general should suddenly order a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union is at the same time one of the cleverest and most incisive satiric thrusts at the awkwardness and folly of the military that have ever been on the screen…

…My reaction to it is quite divided, because there is so much about it that is grand, so much that is brilliant and amusing, and much that is grave and dangerous.

On the one hand, it cuts right to the soft pulp of the kind of military mind that is lost from all sense of reality in a maze of technical talk, and it shows up this type of mentality for the foolish and frightening thing it is…

…As I say, there are parts of this satire that are almost beyond compare.

On the other hand, I am troubled by the feeling, which runs all through the film, of discredit and even contempt for our whole defense establishment, up to and even including the hypothetical Commander in Chief.

It is all right to show the general who starts this wild foray as a Communist-hating madman, convinced that a ‘Red conspiracy’ is fluoridating our water in order to pollute our precious body fluids. That is pointed satire, and Sterling Hayden plays the role with just a right blend of wackiness and meanness to give the character significance.

But when virtually everybody turns up stupid or insane–or, what is worse, psychopathic–I want to know what this picture proves. The President, played by Peter Sellers with a shiny bald head, is a dolt, whining and unavailing with the nation in a life-or-death spot. But worse yet, his technical expert, Dr. Strangelove, whom Mr. Sellers also plays, is a devious and noxious ex- German whose mechanical arm insists on making the Nazi salute.

And, oddly enough, the only character who seems to have much common sense is a British flying officer, whom Mr. Sellers–yes, he again–plays.

The ultimate touch of ghoulish humor is when we see the bomb actually going off, dropped on some point in Russia, and a jazzy sound track comes in with a cheerful melodic rendition of ‘We’ll Meet Again Some Sunny Day.’ Somehow, to me, it isn’t funny. It is malefic and sick.” -Bosley Crowther (New York Times, January 30, 1964)

Did Mr. Crowther not understand that satire is supposed to have this dividing effect on the viewer? The entire point is to show the folly in all arguments. Everyone is ridiculous for the simple reason that there is ridiculousness in each point of view. This is what made the cold war situation so dangerous. I suppose the dark nature of the humor might still be too much for certain people to digest, but this is probably a testament to the film’s brilliance. It still seems relevant today.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has given Dr. Strangelove the royal treatment. Instead of utilizing their usual clear case packaging (which is usually quite lovely), they have designed an impressive Digipak with film related artwork designed by Eric Skillman.

Inside the digipak is a “Plan R” envelope that contains the following artifacts:

1. A booklet that is beautifully designed to look like a men’s magazine entitled “Strangelove.” This booklet contains an article by Terry Southern about the making of the film that was originally written in 1994. This article is both enjoyable and informative. Fans of the film will love it.

2. An official document that is labeled “TOP SECRET” and contains an essay by David Bromwich about the production of Strangelove.

  1. Holy Bible and Russian Phrases. This tiny little booklet is slightly less impressive than the other two items. There are a few Russian phrases at the beginning of the book, but most of the book is devoted to film and disk credits and technical information about the transfer.

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This is really a very clever little package, and it should look terrific on your Blu-ray shelf.

The menus utilize footage from the film accompanied by a dramatic musical arrangement of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” that is featured in the film.

Menu 1Menu 2Menu 3Menu 4

They are quite attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s tiny “Holy Bible & Russian Phrases” booklet details their 1.66:1 high definition transfer in more depth than any review might hope to discuss it:

“…Because of overprinting and damage created at the time of its theatrical release, the original camera negative of Dr. Strangelove was destroyed at the laboratory fifty years ago. As a result, a combination of elements, including 35mm fine-grain master positives, duplicate negatives, and prints were used for this digital transfer, which was created in 4K resolution on an Oxberry wet-gate film scanner at Cineric in New York in 2004. Given the condition of the many elements; the fact that they represented different manufacturing generations from the original camera negative, resulting in wide variations in density and contrast; and the need to maintain the filmmaker’s aesthetic intentions, it was determined that the only way to restore the film properly was in a full 4K digital space.

Daniel DeVincent, Cineric’s director of digital restoration, created lookup tables designed to optimize the scanner for each element and achieve the dynamic range of 35mm film. Under the supervision of Grover Crisp, initial color correction was carried out by DeVincent, with additional color correction done by Scott Ostrowsky at Technicolor and Colorworks in Los Angeles. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed by Cineric using DaVinci’s Revival.”

The result is a fabulous transfer that gives viewers the opportunity to experience the film in a fresh light. Fans who have only viewed the film on previous DVD issues will be especially surprised at the difference in quality.

However, those who own Sony’s 2009 Blu-ray release of the film might need to look quite closely to see a definite difference in quality. The higher bit-rate (28.50 Mbps as opposed to Sony’s 25.95 Mbps) does give Criterion’s transfer a decided edge, and one can see that Criterion’s transfer is marginally superior when one carefully compares the each transfer. The differences are especially clear while comparing the transfers while they are in motion.

The cinematic layer of grain gives the transfer a cinematic texture that is preferable to overzealous DNR, and the picture remains clear throughout the length of the film. The high-definition transfer showcases a level of detail that wasn’t evident on DVD issues of the film, and the transfer exhibits near-perfect contrast with clean gradients in the mid-range. There may be a few minor edge enhancement issues, but one really has to scrutinize the image to notice this. It certainly never becomes distracting. Overall, this is an excellent transfer!

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The film’s soundtrack was also restored to its former glory by the restoration team.

“The original monaural soundtrack and the alternate 5.1 sound mix were remastered from the best surviving optical tracks at Chase Audio by Deluxe, under [Grover] Crisp’s supervision, [and] additional restoration was undertaken by the Criterion Collection using Pro Tools and iZotope Rx4.”

Purists will no doubt prefer Criterion’s LPCM English Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit). This mono track sounds quite good for its age. Criterion seems to have cleaned up a few of the track’s blemishes leaving a relatively clear audio experience. Meanwhile, their 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Mix (48 kHz, 3680 kbps, 24-bit) is slightly more dynamic with some subtle activity in the rear speakers, though this track has a few minor anomalies (such as minor hissing) that aren’t quite as obvious in the mono track. It should be said, that these issues are barely noticeable. One would have to have a terrific sound system and a sensitive ear to notice them.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

It is nice to see that most of the terrific supplements from the Sony Blu-ray have been carried over for this disc in addition to Criterion’s brand new bonus features. (The picture-in-picture feature isn’t included, but few will miss it.) There are nearly four hours of supplements on this disc, and it is nearly impossible to imagine that anyone will feel shortchanged.

Inside Dr. Strangelove (2000) – (SD) – (46:04)

David Naylor’s documentary is a better than average look at the making of Kubrick’s masterpiece. The program utilizes a healthy amount of narration to fill in any holes left by the numerous interviewees featured throughout the duration of the piece, and archival stills, newsreel footage, and clips from the film are used to illustrate what the various participants discuss. Participants include James B. Harris, Ken Adam, Peter Murton, Gilbert Taylor, Tracy Reed, James Earl Jones, and probably two times as many others worth mentioning. The result is as entertaining as it is informative.

No Fighting in the War Room (2004) – (SD) – (30:04)

“No Fighting in the War Room, or Dr. Strangelove and the Nuclear Threat” gives viewers a glimpse into the political atmosphere of the cold war era. Interestingly, Robert McNamara (former secretary of defense) is on hand to explain the finer points of nuclear deterrence in a manner that is simple to understand, and horrifying to contemplate. This contextual information adds to one’s appreciation of the film’s satirical elements.

The Art of Stanley Kubrick: From Short Films to Strangelove (2000) – (SD) – (13:50)

This is obviously a companion piece to David Naylor’s “Inside Dr. Strangelove.” Many of the same participants are utilized, and it could have very easily been edited as a part of that particular program. “The Art of Stanley Kubrick” would be the perfect introduction to the work of Stanley Kubrick if it proceeded to discuss the director’s six post-Strangelove efforts. As it is, the viewer is given a general overview of Kubrick’s becoming.

Best Sellers (2004) – (SD) – (18:28)

 “Best Sellers, or Peter Sellers and Dr. Strangelove” is relatively self-explanatory. This short piece gives the brilliant comedian his due while telling the story of his background and discussing his vast talent. Plenty of participants are on hand to sing his praises as the program finally comes to his legendary three-role performance in Dr. Strangelove.  While this cannot be described as a particularly comprehensive look at the life and career of Peter Sellers, it is an admirable introduction. There are quite a few clips of his early work that will be new to many viewers, and the inclusion of this footage would be enough reason to praise this excellent featurette.

Stanley Kubrick’s Pursuit of Perfection: Joe Dunton and Kelvin Pike – (12:13)

Joe Dunton (Cinematographer) and Kelvin Pike (Camera operator) discuss Kubrick’s photographic knowledge while reminiscing about their experiences working with Kubrick. Pike’s memories are especially interesting (and relevant), because of his work on Strangelove. This is a very welcome addition to the disc!

Deep Impact: David George Remembers Peter George – (10:57)

David George discusses Red Alert (which formed the basis for Dr. Strangelove) and his father’s collaboration with Kubrick and Southern on the film’s screenplay. This program further expands the viewer’s behind-the-scenes knowledge of the film by looking at the evolution of the script. There are some wonderful nuggets of information here.

Flying Solo: Stanley Kubrick as Producer – (19:14)

Mick Broderick has recently written a book about the making of Dr. Strangelove entitled “Reconstructing Strangelove: Inside Stanley Kubrick’s “Nightmare Comedy,” and this program is essentially a one-sided conversation with Broderick about Stanley Kubrick’s first efforts as producer. The information given is more general in nature and offers the viewer information about Kubrick’s working methods.

Exploding Myths: Richard Daniels on the Stanley Kubrick Archive – (14:15)

Daniels discusses some of the misconceptions about Kubrick’s working method while offering evidence of the contrary that can be found in “The Stanley Kubrick Archive.” For example, we are given evidence that Sellers didn’t ad-lib dialogue nearly as much as legend suggests. His improvisations were more in his delivery and physical business. There is quite a bit of information crammed into these fourteen minutes.

Transcending Time: Symbols and Strangelove – (17:25)

In this scholarly discussion, Rodney Hill theorizes about the various Jungian archetypes present in Dr. Strangelove. Hill claims that Kubrick’s appreciation of the writings of Joseph Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) influenced his films. Dr. Strangelove is briefly dissected along these lines. It makes for interesting food for thought (even if one doesn’t agree with Hill’s theories).

Peter Sellers on “The Today Show – (4:23)

This excerpt from a 1980 episode of The Today Show is a very humorous clip of a conversation between Gene Shalit and Peter Sellers. The conversation is less informative than entertaining, but Sellers is always a delight to watch. This archival clip adds a charm to the supplemental package that is most appreciated.

1963 Split Screen Interviews 1963 with Peter Sellers & George C. Scott – (SD) – (7:16)

While these interviews are interesting as artifacts of the film’s marketing and promotion, they suffer from a lack of context. The viewer are only given pre-recorded answers to unknown questions. It is good to have them included here, but it is difficult to gather any concrete knowledge from them.

Exhibitor’s Trailer – (16:53)

This “trailer” is made up of raw footage from the film that is narrated (or explained) by Stanley Kubrick) himself. The most interesting aspect of this short promotional piece (which was never intended to be seen by the public) lies in the fact that this is essentially unedited footage that has been roughly assembled. It has the capacity to give one insight into Kubrick’s shooting and editing process (even if these insights might seem minor).

Jeremy Bernstein Interviews Stanley Kubrick (1966) – (3:06)

This is an excerpt from a 1966 interview with Stanley Kubrick. It must have shocked Jeremy Bernstein when Kubrick agreed to a lengthy interview for what would become a full-length profile for The New Yorker, because the director wasn’t particularly fond of giving interviews. The interview was held in England while Kubrick was working on his newest project (2001: A Space Odyssey). Kubrick even insisted that Bernstein use one of his tape recorders to capture this legendary 77-minute interview… and now we have this wonderful excerpt from this conversation included here on this disc.

The clip focuses on Dr. Strangelove and is essential listening for fans of the film. It is really nice to have this audio footage included on the disk.

Theatrical Trailer – (3:24)

One of the more ambitious and unusual trailers to come out of the Hollywood system, this might be better called a “teaser” than a proper “trailer.” Fans should be grateful to have this included on the disc!

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Final Words:

The final paragraph of Roger Ebert’s 1994 rave about the film sums up this reviewer’s feelings perfectly.

“Seen after 30 years, Dr. Strangelove seems remarkably fresh and undated – a clear-eyed, irreverent, dangerous satire. And its willingness to follow the situation to its logical conclusion – nuclear annihilation – has a purity that today’s lily-livered happy-ending technicians would probably find a way around. Its black and white photography helps, too, putting an unadorned face on its deadly political paradoxes. If movies of this irreverence, intelligence and savagery were still being made, the world would seem a younger place.” –Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, October 28, 1994)

Over ten years have passed since Ebert wrote these words, and Dr. Strangelove still hasn’t grown stale. There is no excuse for ignoring this film, and Criterion has given us the perfect outlet for watching it film on home video. Find a place of honor on your shelves for this one.

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Review by: Devon Powell