Sunday, March 04, 2012

Screening Log: Laughing at the Apocalypse Edition

            One note before the screening log; for those of you who don’t follow every word about Russian art house cinema, you may not know that Geoff Dyer has published a book on Tarkovsky’s Stalker called Zona. I look forward to reading it soon, especially after J. Hoberman’s review this week. I am particularly excited that next week the New York Institute for the Humanities will be holding a special 4-hour event on Stalker. The film will be played in its entirety, but stopped every half hour for discussion. The panel not only includes Dyer, but the great film critic and essayist Phillip Lopate (a former professor of mine), and Walter Murch, one of the best film editors in the business (best known for his work with Francis Ford Coppola on he Godfather films and Apocalypse Now). There are some others as well, so it should be a unique and interesting event (despite the Twitter ramblings of Glenn Kenny on the inclusion of Dana Stevens). Onto the show:

-The Iron Curtain, 1948: Directed by William Wellman. 35mm Screening at Film Forum.
-The President Vanishes, 1934. Directed by William Wellman. 35mm Screening at Film Forum.
-Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1964. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Digital 2K Projection at Film Forum.
-Some Like it Hot, 1959. Directed by Billy Wilder. Viewed in HD on Turner Classic Movies.
              Because I’m working on some other stuff today, I’m not writing too long on Dr. Strangelove, but one thing I’ve always found fascinating is whether Kubrick is presenting the film funny through its visuals or not. For the most part, one could argue that if you turned off the audio for the film, there wouldn’t be much to laugh at (and one thinks of that shot of Strangelove sitting alone in the shadows, like out of a horror film).
            However, and perhaps because of the sharper digital presentation, I was able to notice many more visual jokes. A lot of these are simply in George C. Scott’s furrowed brow, which is a goldmine of silent reactions. I think there is a certain tension between the comedy and the horror, which is my own reason why Kubrick cut the gigantic pie fighting scene. As it stands, there are few moments of absurdity in the visuals (sans the iconic image of Major Kong), and none of the characters are taking any of this as comedy. No one laughs at Strangelove’s manic, Nazi hand, and in another film, his character would be less buffoon and more monster. But overall, I think Kubrick appropriately takes the consequences as seriously as his characters, which is of course the #1 rule of comedy in my book. Let's take a look:
I would love to see a shot from the production of this sequence. That low angle from which the camera must have been placed is not an easy shot to do. And combined with Hayden's menacing look and that gigantic cigar sticking out of his mouth, it adds to the maniacal power Ripper represents.
The shot of Strangelove, contemplating the moment of which disaster was averted, perhaps sad not to see the coming nuclear annihilation. 
One of the very, very funny shots, as George C. Scott reads the "precious bodily fluids" line with much confusion. Even funnier is the folder for which the General holds, which reads "World Targets in Megadeaths," which is the most absurd name for a folder ever.
One of the more blatant visual jokes in the film.
If you have a chance to watch this film soon, watch Sellers's hands in this scene, which are constantly fidgeting. Also a great detail is Hayden's hand on Sellers knee, making him feel more awkward because he might be responsibility for the annihilation of the world, but also Hayden's odd come ons (as Ripper tells us later, he makes love to women but finds no pleasure in doing so).
Sublime comedy from George C. Scott.

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