"It remains as outrageously prankish, juvenile, and derisive as ever," writes David Denby in the New Yorker magazine's blog. He's referring to a true monument of 1960s nuclear-paranoid culture, Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove."
Denby is a bit late with his 50-year anniversary reappraisal -- the film's premiere took place in January 1964 -- but his peg is the current screening of a freshly cleaned-up 35-mm print at Manhattan's Film Forum revival house, so that's all right. His post is accompanied by a couple of fascinating articles by Eric Schlosser about the relationship between the film and the real-life politics of the nuclear-age Cold War, which the magazine published back in January.
The old corrosive Kubrick wit resurfaced in the first half of "Full Metal Jacket," which made a star of former real-life Marine Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey, but it was almost canceled out by the second half. Don't even talk to me about "Eyes Wide Shut."
Fans who saw "Strangelove" upon its original release may still remember the shock of witnessing the deadly lethalities of nuclear war policy undone by sheer ridicule. It really was the only way to get the point across. Much later, the sinister nonchalance of nuclear policymakers was reported by my former colleague Bob Scheer, in his astonishing 1983 book "With Enough Shovels." Scheer quoted a Pentagon expert figuring that the U.S. population could survive a nuclear war by digging itself underground until the hostilities passed. "If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody's going to make it," he said. "It's the dirt that does it." By then it wasn't funny anymore, just horrifying.
Schlosser points out that, despite the demurrers of Pentagon officials at the time, "Dr. Strangelove's" basic scenario, a series of mishaps that sends a U.S. bomber on an unauthorized nuclear attack on Russia, was theoretically possible. "In retrospect," he writes, "Kubrick’s black comedy provided a far more accurate description of the dangers inherent in nuclear command-and-control systems than the ones that the American people got from the White House, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media."