Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
W/ Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott, Slim Pickens,
Keenan Wynn, James Earl Jones
A Clockwork Orange
D: Stanley Kubrick (1971)
w/ Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Michael Bates,
D: Stanley Kubrick (1962)
w/ James Mason, Sue Lyon, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers, Marianne Stone, Diana Decker
Since 1987's Full Metal Jacket, we've heard virtually nothing from Stanley Kubrick. The comparisons between Adrian Lyne's new Lolita and Kubrick's 1962 adaptation of the novel and a rumored release date for Kubrick's newest psychosexual thriller, Eyes Wide Shut (early 1999) has the director back in the news, however. Kubrick is best known for movies of psychological terror (The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey) and for war pictures that illustrate the tragedy and horror of battle (Full Metal Jacket, Paths of Glory). All of these films (go ahead, throw in Spartacus for good measure) are considered to be among the absolute best in their genres. His comedies (Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Lolita) take a look at his lighter subjects: nuclear devastation, gang rape, and pedophilia.
Dr. Strangelove also featured what would become a Kubrick trademark: strikingly ironic uses of music, and if you've seen A Clockwork Orange you'll never hear "Singing in the Rain" or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in quite the same way again. Set in the near future, A Clockwork Orange is an extremely disturbing meditation on the violent nature of man. That doesn't sound much like the description of a comedy, but it's precisely the fact that the movie is so funny that makes it so disturbing. We spend the first 30 minutes of the film witnessing beatings, cripplings, gang fights, terrorism, and gang rape, all for the amusement of Alex DeLarge (McDowell) and his band of "droogs." Later betrayed by his friends and arrested, he volunteers for an experimental treatment in behavior modification that leaves him retching on his hands and feet at the slightest thought of violence. Alex is released as a reformed, healthy member of society, but also a victim of his past and something less than human. Early on, close hand-held camera shots and an intense pace draw the audience into Alex's addiction and attraction to violence and power. As a witness to his forced transformation we actually begin to pull for him, even though he is indisputably immoral and repugnant. This may, in fact, be the most disturbing effect of the film. Stylistically, the film is quirky and colorful, with fascinating contrasts between beauty and horror. Kubrick also stays fairly faithful to the book's odd language, a sort of Shakespeare meets Dr. Seuss.
As far as Kubrick's pantheon goes, Lolita, another adaptation of a disturbingly comic novel, is considered only a minor deity. The marketing phrase in 1962 for the film was, "How did they ever make a film like Lolita?" And when you consider the content of Vladimir Nabokov's novel of the same name, it's a genuine question. While Kubrick's film leaves out the racier parts of the novel, he does a good job of capturing the humor and conveying with subtlety a forbidden sexuality. The story concerns Humbert Humbert, a European academic (Mason) who comes to America and falls passionately in love with the 14-year-old girl at his rooming house. In order to stay close to her, he marries the girl's fawning bourgeois mother (Winters) hoping her kidneys will go out sooner than later. Fortunately for Humbert, when his new wife discovers his secret passion, the heartbroken woman runs into the street and is ploughed down by a car swerving to miss a poodle. Just when Humbert thinks the stepdaughter is all his, the mysterious Quilty (Sellers) begins to move in. Most of the humor in the movie is character-driven, Mason playing his part appropriately ó stiff as a board, against the girlish buoyancy of the nubile Lolita, the overbearing screeching of Charlotte and the detached mincing of Quilty, another of Sellers' most brilliant, scene-stealing roles. Much like Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork Orange, Lolita uses humor to keep you entertained and watching, to keep you thinking and laughing while considering in yourself the darkest urges of humanity.
ó Jason Zech