I Don’t Love “Dr. Strangelove:” Is THAT My Problem? Or Is That MY Problem?

05Nov13

Recently, a number of things have lined me up with the work of Stanley Kubrick. A viewing of “Room 237” led to a viewing and discussion of “The Shining,” which lead me to seek out more discussion on that movie, which brought me to a number of podcasts, and as you might suspect, there is a lot of type- and airspace dedicated to Stanley Kubrick. I’ve been picking the general brain of the world.

Without getting into a whole thing here, I’d say my relationship with Kubrick’s work is at an admiring level at best and a confused level at worst. I recognize his work intellectually, but have never FELT it as it would seem some people have. For instance, I can recognize “2001” as some kind of cinematic masterpiece, but I don’t feel it in my bones the way I do about, say*, “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.” There’s a true distance I feel between myself and Kubrick’s films. I find many of them fascinating, but would never pretend to list them in my personal favorites.

But some would, and it seems that “Dr. Strangelove” is the one Kubrick film which often does get such a designation. And that puzzles me, too. I suppose this could all be categorized under the subjective nature of comedy, but that’s not going to stop me, because I just don’t find the movie that funny. It’s not that I’m offended by the
subject. Maybe it’s the opposite. I grew up in the 1980’s, and while the Cold War was still going on, I don’t think I ever experienced the heightened levels of paranoia which existed in “Strangelove’s” time. So without that context – that shared feeling of tension that “WE’RE ALL GONNA BLOW UP!!!” – I might be missing the context for the humor of the film.

My puzzlement with the “Strangelove” adoration (aka the Strange Love over “Strangelove”) could just be a generational thing, except so many of my contemporaries love the film as well. And not just as a piece of superior filmmaking. I’ll admit it looks great (in parts). And some of the acting is great. But as a comedy – as something that makes me laugh – I feel I’ve seen better, funnier movies.

Now, to put a fine point on it: is that MY problem? Is it a generational/regional/educational thing? Am I just not getting the jokes? Whenever I’ve watched “Strangelove” (and I’ve done so multiple times), I feel kind of like a Comedy Robot: I acknowledge there are jokes and bits and satire, but they do not activate my laughter sensors. Is it me? I can’t be alone, but I feel very alone. Am I trying too hard to be someone I’m not?

OR… is my inability to love “Strangelove” evidence of my personal skill set as an artist? Kubrick is one of the most revered creators in the film medium – the medium in which I want to work myself. Shouldn’t it stand to reason that I agree with one of the medium’s tent-pole products? To put it another way: I’m a struggling screenwriter, trying to find a way into the business. Is the fact that I don’t love
“Strangelove” evidence that I just don’t have good taste? Or another way: if I was the type of person who truly loved “Strangelove” and thought it was funny, would that mean I was closer to being a successful filmmaker and writer? People always say writers are inspired by good writing, and filmmakers are inspired by great films.
Here’s a supposedly “great film.” Is the fact that I’m not finding inspiration from it just a precursor to my own flame out? Maybe I’m starting to understand that paranoia thing.

*That asterisk represents a lengthy pause while I considered what film to use as an example, and what my choice would say about me. If I had picked “Star Wars,” I’d look like a boob, because “Star Wars” obviously wouldn’t have happened without “2001.” And if I picked “Breathless,” I’d be lying. I’m writing this to cop to the fact that I am not in any position to name ANYTHING as a cinematic masterpiece, but if I were in such a position, “GBU” would be way up there.

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