Dr. Doomsday or: How to Start World War III Without Even Trying
Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus
My Bomb, Your Bomb
Strangelove: Nuclear Wiseman
The Bomb and Dr. Strangelove or: How to be Afraid 24hrs a Day
The Passion of Dr. Strangelove
Fun titles, but they remind me of a chess quote I tweeted the other day: “When you see a good move look out for a better.” Glad Kubrick stuck with it.
The alternate titles made me curious to look at the script, which I’d never seen before. Even glancing at the first few pages are illuminating. I knew the main characters names were full of suggestive puns — General Buck Turgidson, President Merkin Muffley, General Jack D. Ripper — but that’s nothing compared to some of the names in the script, many of which do not appear in the film:
General “Buck” Schmuck
Admiral Percy Buldike
Ambassador de Sade (“Alexei de Sadeski” in the film)
Lieutenant Quentin Quiffer
Lieutenant “Binky” Ballmuff
And under “General Notes”, Kubrick lays out how he wants the film to look and feel:
1. The story will be played for realistic comedy - which means the essentially truthful moods and attitudes will be portrayed accurately, with an occasional bizarre or super-realistic crescendo. The acting will never be so-called “comedy” acting.
2. The sets and technical details will be done realistically and carefully. We will strive for the maximum atmosphere and sense of visual reality from the sets and locations.
3. The Flying sequences will especially be presented in as vivid a manner as possible. Exciting backgrounds and special effects will be obtained.
Notably, none of the aerial footage in the opening came from — or was even made for — Kubrick’s film. The footage is all stock. Because it came from more than one stock reel, the sequence features multiple aircraft, including an angle from a KC-135 Stratotanker’s refueling deck, which dates back to October 20, 1956 and came directly from the Boeing company. The sequence shows the KC-135 transferring its precious fluids to a B-52 Stratofortress, the colossal bomber featured later in the film. The phallic piece of machinery in the first shot, however, is not the refueling probe of a B-52 or of a KC-135, as one would assume, but possibly that of a Gloster Meteor jet fighter. Regardless, it is the first in a long line of sight gags and sex jokes sprinkled throughout the film.
Also included is a short interview with the title designer, Pablo Ferro.
Slim Pickens riding a nuclear bomb out of the bay doors of his B-52 Bomber in Dr. Strangelove is an iconic cinematic scene. But the imagery of people riding on bombs has been used on comic book covers since the early 1940s:
That’s some mighty Pickensian hat wavin’ by Uncle Sam. (via oobject)
Below you can hear Weegee talk about picture-making. It’s interesting to hear his voice, which is one of those accents you don’t hear so much in New York anymore: part Austro-Hungarian immigrant by way of the Lower East Side and part Elmer Fudd. Peter Sellers based his accent in Dr. Strangelove on Weegee’s voice after Weegee visited Kubrick’s set one day.
After seeing Ferro’s commercials, Kubrick hired him to direct the advertising trailers and teasers for Dr. Strangelove and convinced him to resettle in London (Kubrick’s base of operations until he died there in March 1999). Ferro was inclined to be peripatetic anyway, and ever anxious to bypass already completed challenges he agreed to pull up stakes on the chance that he would get to direct a few British TV commercials, which he did. The black and white spot that Ferro designed for Dr. Strangelove employed his quick-cut technique — using as many as 125 separate images in a minute — to convey both the dark humor and the political immediacy of the film. At something akin to stroboscopic speed words and images flew across the screen to the accompaniment of loud sound effects and snippets of ironic dialog. At a time when the bomb loomed so large in the US public’s fears (remember Barry Goldwater ran for President promising to nuke China), and the polarization of left and right — east and west — was at its zenith, Ferro’s commercial was not only the boldest and most hypnotic graphic on TV, it was a sly subversive statement.
Kubrick wanted to film it all using small airplane models (doubtless prefiguring his classic space ship ballet in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Ferro dissuaded him and located the official stock footage that they used instead. Ferro further conceived the idea to fill the entire screen with lettering (which incidentally had never been done before), requiring the setting of credits at different sizes and weights, which potentially ran counter to legal contractual obligations. But Kubrick supported it regardless. On the other hand, Ferro was prepared to have the titles refined by a lettering artist, but Kubrick correctly felt that the rough hewn quality of the hand-drawn comp was more effective. So he carefully lettered the entire thing himself with a thin pen. Yet only after the film was released did he notice that one word was misspelled: “base on” instead of “based on”. Ooops!
If you want that hand-lettered look for yourself, Pablo Skinny is a font by Fargoboy that closely duplicates Ferro’s handwriting.
Update: According to this Wikipedia article, the work of Canadian avant-garde filmmaker Arthur Lipsett caught the eye of Stanley Kubrick after an Oscar nomination for his short film, Very Nice, Very Nice and, more importantly for our business here, that Kubrick directed the Strangelove trailer himself in Lipsett’s style after Lipsett refused to work with Kubrick on it:
Stanley Kubrick was one of Lipsett’s fans, and asked him to create a trailer for his upcoming movie Dr. Strangelove. Lipsett declined Kubrick’s offer. Kubrick went on to direct the trailer himself; however, Lipsett’s influence on Kubrick is clearly visible when watching the trailer.
The two are stylistically similar for sure, but Ferro is credited with having designed the main title sequence (according to the titles themselves). That passage doesn’t appear to have been derived from any particular source, so I looked for something more definitive. From a 1986 article by Lois Siegel
After his Academy Award nomination, he received a letter from British filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. The typewritten letter said, “I’m interested in having a trailer done for Dr. Strangelove.” Kubrick regarded Lipsett’s work as a landmark in cinema — a breakthrough. He was interested in involving Lipsett. This didn’t happen, but the actual trailer did reflect Lipsett’s style in Very Nice, Very Nice.
Kubrick described Very Nice, Very Nice (1961) as “one of the most imaginative and brilliant uses of the movie screen and soundtrack that I have ever seen.” Kubrick was so enthused with the film he invited Lipsett to create a trailer for Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1965) an offer Lipsett refused. Stanley Kubrick, letter to Arthur Lipsett, Arthur Lipsett Collection, Cinematheque québécoise Archives, Montreal, May 31, 1962.
It’s not clear what the connection is between Lipsett’s work and the trailer that Ferro ended up producing for Strangelove, but several sources (including Heller) say that Ferro developed his quick-cut style directing commercials in the 1950s, work that would predate that of Lipsett.
Lipsett more clearly influenced the work of another prominent filmmaker, George Lucas. Lucas found inspiration in Lipsett’s 21-87 in making THX-1138 and borrowed the concept of “the Force” for the Star Wars movies. Lucas’ films are littered with references to Lipsett’s film; e.g. Princess Leia’s cell in Star Wars was in cell #2187. (thx, gordon)
During an interview in support of the premiere of Dr. Strangelove, an unheard interviewer expresses surprise at Peter Sellers’ use of an American accent and asks him to use an English one. Here’s a video of Sellers trying to find an accent to the interviewer’s liking:
What is that, nine different completely plausible accents in 45 seconds? I love actors who can do accents well. Sellers is my favorite, but I also like Aussie Rachel Griffiths playing Californian Brenda in Six Feet Under and Brits Idris Elba & Dominic West (drug dealer Stringer Bell and officer Jimmy McNulty on The Wire). American actors often seem to have problems doing accents although Gwyneth Paltrow does a nice posh Londoner. We saw The Departed this weekend (really good, BTW), which takes place in Boston, always an accent minefield for actors. Locally grown Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon acquitted themselves quite well. The rest? Not so much. DiCaprio was alright, but the rest of the cast was tuning in and out like an old AM radio.