Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Master The Dark Art of Satire

Satire is hard, y’all. Like really hard.

By now, everyone has heard the news that funnyman Stephen Colbert, is moving out of his red, white and blue Colbert Report set and making the leap from Comedy Central to CBS as he takes over for the man, the myth, the legend, David Letterman. In my mind, Colbert’s job just got a whole ton easier. Not because it’s easy to host a talk show but because it’s so darn difficult to pull off satire as seamlessly as Colbert has for the past 10 years. Satire is hard (see above). The skill required to do quality satire that doesn’t come off as arrogant, pompous or, even worse, not funny, is enormous. Satire requires not only a sharp wit but also a mind that can fully comprehend the topic it’s satirizing. Making fun of something you don’t understand is the easiest thing in the world. Satirizing something you don’t understand is damn near impossible. That’s why so much satire crashes and burns and why what Colbert and his Sith Lord Master Jon Stewart have been able to accomplish for more than a decade is incredible. Good satire is funny (this isn’t actually satire per-se but it’s so funny I had to find a way to get it in this post). Great satire points out the craziness happening in our world that we’re do busy to notice. Satire at its best moves people to do something about it.

Stewart, Colbert and The Onion are certainly not the first folks to pull off the satire gambit. Political satire dates back all the way to Ancient Greece and has played important roles throughout western civilization. This week’s AFI film, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, is a prime example of some darn good satire focusing on the nuclear hysteria during the Cold War. Here’s what I thought:

24. Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Released: 1964
Big names: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, James Earl Jones and Stanley Kubrick (director)
One sentence summary: Mutual assured destruction is put to the test as a crazed general puts the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. on a nuclear crash course.
Scene that sticks out: Just after Peter Sellers delivers his classic, “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room,” the camera holds on the rotund Soviet ambassador casually sitting on the lap of the American general he was just fighting with. It just cracked me up.
Thoughts: I must confess something before I go into my thoughts on this film. I had to watch this movie a second time because I fell asleep the first time. This has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the film. It simply is further evidence that I can fall asleep at anytime even if it’s 8 p.m. on a Friday. So when I watched it again on Saturday morning, I was committed and focused. And thoroughly entertained. The Cold War is a fascinating period to study and the fact that nuclear weapons seemed to have been a regularly considered option for warfare is a terrifying thought to me. Kubrick’s satirical romp through a nuclear panic points out exactly why. An addled general who thinks that the Soviets are out to depurify his “essential fluids” starts the ball rolling on a nuclear attack on the U.S.S.R. that the president and all of his merry military men can’t seem to get a handle on. Air Force General Buck Turgidson talks of tens of millions of American casualties as a mere hair ruffling and ex-Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove recommends an underground bunker system which would have a 10:1 female to male ratio for repopulating the Earth after a nuclear holocaust. Add in a Texan’s Texan piloting the B-52 screaming towards the Soviet Union and a young James Earl Jones, and you’ve got a quality flick.
Ranking (out of 10): 7-10 – Kubrick points out and emphasizes the outrageousness of the nuclear arms race without devolving into farce.

The Many Faces of Peter Sellers

I’m not sure if it says more about Peter Sellers’ acting ability or my lack of observational skills that I didn’t realize while watching the film that Sellers actually plays three separate characters throughout the movie: Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley and Dr. Strangelove himself. The three characters are so different (they’re all literally from different countries) that I am in awe that he was able to pull it off so brilliantly. Sellers was initially slated to play four different roles but ended up not playing Major T.J. “King” Kong because of a sprained ankle.

Peter Sellers played three of the four roles originally written for him.

Peter Sellers played three of the four roles originally written for him.

NEXT WEEK: Get your boxing gloves ready because we’re hopping in the ring with Rocky.

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