© 2006 William Ahearn
There is little dispute about the greatness of “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Written by Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern and Peter George (who had written Red Alert, the book on which “Strangelove” is based, and who committed suicide two years after the release of the movie), it is that rare US film that doesn’t rely on slapstick or juvenile sex jokes to make its comedic points.
Recently I watched it again on DVD and it has lost little over time even if the immediacy of nuclear war has been diminished by recent events. It’s a fabulous script that avoids verbal as well as cinematic clichés. The cast consists of excellent players turning in excellent performances. The direction is focused, the soundtrack does exactly what it needs to do and even the screen titles are totally cool. “Strangelove” was going to be released during the Christmas holiday but the funeral and mourning of John F. Kennedy pushed the release date into 1964.
In 1963, computers were still in their infancy by today’s standards. It that year ASCII was created, the first mouse was built (even though it would be almost 15 years before anyone but a lab rat would use one), Moore’s law became part of geek speak, and the IEEE was founded. It was the year Steve “Slug” Russell would create Spacewar!, the first computer game and BASIC was being developed but wouldn’t be completed until sometime later in 1964.
It was also the beginning of the third generation of computers. Transistors had been a major step forward but they ran hotter than tubes creating new sets of problems for computer designers. In 1958, Texas Instruments developed the integrated chip using quartz and silicon that led to the semiconductor. Computers were getting smaller, faster and more reliable. It was during the third generation that operating systems – allowing for the use of multiple programs to be run simultaneously – became a reality.
As far as computer movies go, “Strangelove” is the last mumblings of the voice of reason. Computers play a critical part in the destruction of civilization – they control the Soviet Doomsday Machine – and also in its potential rise to a new society – and the dialog between Peter Sellers and George C. Scott is priceless – but they remain dumb boxen doing as they’re told. In “Strangelove,” people are still in charge and are the victims of their own destructive stupidity.
Jean-Luc Godard would change all of that with “Alphaville.”
Many thanks to Matt Wright for the film.