Open Culture listed more than 500 films that you can watch free online.
You can find the films here.
Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986) firmly positioned himself as the finest Soviet director of the post-War period. But his influence extended well beyond the Soviet Union. The Cahiers du cinéma consistently ranked his films on top ten annual lists. Ingmar Bergman went so far as to say, “Tarkovsky for me is the greatest [director], the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” And Akira Kurosawa too, added, “I love all of Tarkovsky’s films. I love his personality and all his works. Every cut from his films is a marvelous image in itself.”
Shot between 1962 and 1986, Tarkovsky’s seven feature films often grapple with metaphysical and spiritual themes, using a distinctive cinematic style. Long takes, slow pacing and metaphorical imagery – they all figure into the archetypical Tarkovsky film.
You can find the links of all seven films here.
The Art of Noise article made me think of this short:
and this feature (scene from):
Filmmakers are from where I lived in Sweden. They're awesome and inspired me tremendously when I lived over there.
Today’s entry is our first guest blog. It follows naturally from the last entry on how our eyes scan and sample images. Tim Smith is a psychological researcher particularly interested in how movie viewers watch. You can follow his work on his blog Continuity Boy and his research site.
I asked Tim to develop some of his ideas for our readers, and he obliged by providing an experiment that takes off from my analysis of staging in one scene of There Will Be Blood, posted here back in 2008. The result is almost unprecedented in film studies, I think: an effort to test a critic’s analysis against measurable effects of a movie. What follows may well change the way you think about visual storytelling.
Tim’s colorful findings also suggest how research into art can benefit from merging humanistic and social-scientific inquiry. Kristin and I thank Tim for his willingness to share his work.
Tim Smith writes:
David’s previous post provided a nice introduction to eye tracking and its possible significance for understanding film viewing. Now it is my job to show you what we can do with it.
Continuity errors: How they escape us
Knowing where a viewer is looking is critical to beginning to understand how a viewer experiences a film. Only the visual information at the centre of attention can be perceived in detail and encoded in memory. Peripheral information is processed in much less detail and mostly contributes to our perception of space, movement and general categorisation and layout of a scene.
The incredibly reductive nature of visual attention explains why large changes can occur in a visual scene without our noticing. Clear examples of this are the glaring continuity errors found in some films. Lighting that changes throughout a scene, cigarettes that never burn down, and drinks that instantly refill plague films and television but we rarely notice them except on repeated or more deliberate viewing. In my PhD thesis I created a taxonomy of continuity errors in feature films and related them to various failings during pre-production, filming, and post-production.
Our inability to detect continuity errors was elegantly demonstrated in a study by Dan Levin and Dan Simons. In their study continuity errors were purposefully introduced into a film sequence of two women conversing across a dinner table. If you haven’t seen it before, watch the video here before continuing, and see how many continuity errors you can spot.
Two frames from the clip used by Levin and Simons (1997). Continuity errors were deliberately inserted across cuts (e.g., the disappearing scarf), and viewers were asked after watching the video whether they noticed any.
The short clip contained nine continuity errors, such as a scarf that changed colour, then disappeared, plates that changed colour and hands that changed position. During the first viewing, viewers were told to pay close attention but were not informed about the continuity errors. When asked afterwards if they noticed anything change, only one participant reported seeing anything and that was a vague sense that the posture of the actors changed. Even during a second viewing in which they were instructed to detect changes, viewers only detected an average of 2 out of the 9 changes and tended to notice changes closest to the actors’ faces such as the scarf.
Although Levin and Simons did not record viewer eye movements, my own experiments investigating gaze behaviour during film viewing indicates that our eyes will mostly be focussed on faces and spend virtually no time on peripheral details. If you as a viewer don’t fixate a peripheral object such as the plate, you are unable to represent the colour of the plate in memory and can, therefore not detect the change in colour when you later refixate it.
To see how reductive and tightly focused our gaze is whilst watching a film, consider Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (TWBB; 2007). In an earlier post, David used a scene from this film as an example of how staging can be used to direct viewer attention without the need for editing.
The scene depicts Paul Sunday describing the location of his family farm on a map to Daniel Planview, his partner Fletcher Hamilton, and his son H.W. The entire scene is treated in a long, static shot (with a slight movement in at the beginning). Most modern film and television productions would use rapid editing and close-up shots to shift attention between the map and the characters within this scene. This frenetic style of filmmaking–which David termed intensified continuity in his book The Way Hollywood Tells It (2006)–breaks a scene down into a succession of many viewpoints, rapidly and forcefully presented to the viewer.
Intensified continuity is in stark contrast to the long-take style used in this scene from TWBB. The long-take style, which was common in the 1910s and recurred at intervals after that period, relies more on staging and compositional techniques to guide viewer attention within a prolonged shot. For example, lighting, colour, and focal depth can guide viewer attention within the frame, prioritising certain parts of the scene over others. However, even without such compositional techniques, the director can still influence viewer attention by co-opting natural biases in our attention: our sensitivity to faces, hands, and movement.
In order to see these biases in action during TWBB we need to record viewer eye movements. In a small pilot study, I recorded the eye movements of 11 adults using an Eyelink 1000 (SR Research) eyetracker. This eyetracker uses an infrared camera to accurately track the viewer’s pupil every millisecond. The movements of the pupil are then analysed to identify fixations, when the eyes are relatively still and visual processing happens; saccadic eye movements (saccades), when the eyes quickly move between locations and visual processing shuts down; smooth pursuit movements, when we process a moving object; and blinks.
Eye movements on their own can be interesting for drawing inferences about cognitive processing, but when thinking about film viewing, where a viewer looks is of most interest. As David demonstrated in his last post, analysing where a viewer looks whilst viewing a static scene, such as Repin’s painting An Unexpected Visitor, is relatively simple. The gaze of a viewer can be plotted on to the static image and the time spent looking at each region, such as a characters face or an object in the scene can be measured.
However, when the scene is moving, it is much more difficult to relate the gaze of a viewer on the screen to objects in the scene. To overcome this difficulty, my colleagues and I developed new visualisation techniques and analysis tools. These efforts were part of a large project investigating eye movement behaviour during film and TV viewing (Dynamic Images and Eye Movements, what we call the DIEM project). These techniques allow us to capture the dynamics of gaze during film viewing and display it in all its fascinating, frenetic glory.
To begin, the gaze location of each viewer is placed as a point on the corresponding frame of the movie. The point is represented as a circle with the size of the circle denoting how long the eyes have remained in the same location, i.e. fixated that location. We then add the gaze location of all viewers on to the same frame. Although the viewers watched the clip at different times, plotting all viewers together allows us to look for similarities and differences between where people look and when they look there. This figure shows the gaze location of 8 viewers at one moment in the scene. (The remaining 3 viewers are blinking at this moment.)
A snapshot of gaze locations of 8 viewers whilst watching the “map” sequence from There Will Be Blood (2007). Each green circle represents the gaze location of one participant, with the size of the circle indicating how long the eyes have been in fixation (bigger equals longer).
You have a roving eye
Plotting static gaze points onto a single frame of the movie allows us to see what viewers were looking at in a particular frame, but we don’t get a true sense of how we watch movies until we animate the gaze on top of the movie as it plays back. Here is a video of the entire sequence from TWBB with superimposed gaze of 11 viewers.
You can also see it here. The main table-top map sequence we are interested begins at 3 minutes, 37 seconds.
The most striking feature of the gaze behaviour when it is animated in this way is the very fast pace at which we shift our eyes around the screen. On average, each fixation is about 300 milliseconds in duration. (A millisecond is a thousandth of a second.) Amazingly, that means that each fixation of the fovea lasts only about 1/3 of a second. These fixations are separated by even briefer saccadic eye movements, taking between 15 and 30 milliseconds!
Looking at these patterns, our gaze may appear unusually busy and erratic, but we’re moving our eyes like this every moment of our waking lives. We are not aware of the frenetic pace of our attention because we are effectively blind every time we saccade between locations. This process is known as saccadic suppression. Our visual system automatically stitches together the information encoded during each fixation to effortlessly create the perception of a constant, stable scene.
In other experiments with static scenes, my colleagues and I have shown that even if the overall scene is hidden 150milliseconds into every fixation, we are still able to move our eyes around and find a desired object. Our visual system is built to deal with such disruptions and perceive a coherent world from fragments of information encoded during each fixation.
The second most striking observation you may have about the video is how coordinated the gaze of multiple viewers is. Most of the time, all viewers are looking in a similar place. This is a phenomenon I have termed Attentional Synchrony. If several viewers examine a static scene like the Repin painting discussed in David’s last post, they will look in similar places, but not at the same time. Yet as soon as the image moves, we get a high degree of attentional synchrony. Something about the dynamics of a moving scene leads to all viewers looking at the same place, at the same time.
The main factors influencing gaze can be divided into bottom-up involuntary control by the visual scene and top-down voluntary control by the viewer’s intentions, desires, and prior experience. As part of the DIEM project we were able to identify the influence of bottom-up factors on gaze during film viewing using computer vision techniques. These techniques allowed us to dissect a sequence of film into its visual constituents such as colour, brightness, edges, and motion. We found that moments of attentional synchrony can be predicted by points of motion within an otherwise static scene (i.e. motion contrast).
You can see this for yourself when you watch the gaze video. Viewers’ gazes are attracted by the sudden appearance of objects, moving hands, heads, and bodies. The greater the motion contrast between the point of motion and the static background, the more likely viewers will look at it. If there is only one point of motion at a particular moment, then all viewers will look at the motion, creating attentional synchrony.
This is a powerful technique for guiding attention through a film. But it’s of course not unique to film. Noticing points of motion is a natural bias which we have evolved by living in the real world. If we were not sensitive to peripheral motion, then the tiger in the bushes might have killed our ancestors before they had chance to pass their genes down to us.
But points of motion do not exist in film without an object executing the movement. This brings us to David’s earlier analysis of the staging of this sequence from TWBB. This might be a good time to go back and read David’s analysis before we begin testing his hypotheses with eyetracking. Is David right in predicting that, even in the absence of other compositional techniques such as lighting, camera movement, and editing, viewer attention during this sequence is tightly controlled by staging?
All together now
To help us test David’s hypotheses I am going to perform a little visualisation trick. Making sense of where people are looking by observing a swarm of gaze points can often be very tricky. To simplify things we can create a “peekthrough” heatmap. A virtual spotlight is cast around each gaze point. This spotlight casts a cold, blue light on the area around the gaze point. If the gazes of multiple viewers are in the same location their spotlights combine and create a hotter/redder heatmap. Areas of the frame that are unattended remain black. By then removing the gaze points but leaving the heatmap we get a “peekthrough” to the movie which allows us to clearly see which parts of the frame are at the centre of attention, which are ignored and how coordinated viewer gaze is.
Here is the resulting peekthrough video; also available here. The map sequence begins at 3:38.
Here is the image of gaze location I showed above, now matched to the same frame of the peekthrough video.
The gaze data from multiple viewers is used to create a “peekthrough” heatmap in which each gaze location shines a virtual spotlight on the film frame. Any part of the frame not attended is black, and the more viewers look in the same location, the hotter the color.
David’s first hypothesis about the map sequence is that the faces and hands of the actors command our attention. This is immediately apparent from the peekthrough video. Most gaze is focused on faces, shifting between them as the conversation switches from one character to another.
The map receives a few brief fixations at the beginning of the scene but the viewers quickly realise that it is devoid of information and spend the remainder of the scene looking at faces. The only time the map is fixated is when one of the characters gestures towards it (as above).
We can see the effect of turn-taking in the conversation on viewer attention by analyzing a few exchanges. The sequence begins with Paul pointing at the map and describing the location of his family farm to Daniel. Most viewers’ gazes are focused on Paul’s face as he talks, with some glances to other faces and the rest of the scene. When Paul points to the map, our gaze is channeled between his face and what he is gazing/pointing at.
Such gaze prompting and gesturing are powerful social cues for attention, directing attention along a person’s sightline to the target of their gaze or gesture. Gaze cues form the basis of a lot of editing conventions such as the match an action, shot/reverse-shot dialogue pairings, and point-of-view shots. However, in this scene gaze cuing is used in its more natural form to cue viewer attention within a single shot rather than across cuts.
As Paul finishes giving directions, Daniel asks him a question which immediately results in all viewers shifting the gaze to Daniel’s face. Gaze then alternates between Daniel and Paul as the conversation passes between them. The viewers are both watching the speaker to see what he is saying and also monitoring the listener’s responses in the form of facial expressions and body movement.
Daniel turns his back to the camera, creating a conflict between where the viewer wants to look (Daniel’s face) and what they can see (the back of his head). As David rightly predicted, by removing the current target of our attention the probability that we attend to other parts of the scene is increased, such as H. W., who up until this point has not played a role in the interaction. Viewers begin glancing towards HW and then quickly shift their gaze to him when he asks Paul how many sisters he has.
Gaze returns to Paul as he responds.
Gaze shifts from Paul to Daniel as he asks a short question, and then moves to Fletcher as he joins the conversation.
The quick exchanges of dialogue ensure that viewers only have enough time to shift their gaze to the speaker and then shift to the respondent. When gaze dwells longer on a speaker, such as during the exchange between Fletcher and Paul, there is an increase in glances away from the speaker to other parts of the scene such as the other silent faces or objects.
An object that receives more fixations as the scene develops is Paul’s hat, which he nervously fiddles with. At one point, when responding to Fletcher’s question about what they grow on the farm, Paul glances down at his hat. This triggers a large shift of viewer gaze, which slides down to the hat. Likewise, a subtle turn of the head creates a highly significant cue for viewers, steering them towards what Paul is looking at while also conveying his uneasiness.
The most subtle gesture of the scene comes soon after as Fletcher asks about water at the farm. Paul states that the water is generally salty and as he speaks Fletcher shifts his eyes slightly in the direction of Daniel. This subtle movement is enough to cue three of the viewers to shift their gaze to Daniel, registering their silent exchange.
This small piece of information seems critical to Daniel and Fletcher’s decision to follow up Paul’s lead, but its significance can be registered by viewers only if they happened to be fixating Fletcher at the time he glanced at Daniel. The majority of viewers are looking at Paul as he speaks and they miss the gesture. For these viewers, the significance of the statement may be lost, or they may have to deduce the significance either from their own understanding of oil prospecting or other information exchanged during the scene.
The final and most significant gesture of the scene is Daniel’s threatening raised hand. As Paul goes to leave, Daniel stalls him by raising his hand centre frame in a confusing gesture hovering midway between a menacing attack and a friendly handshake. In David’s earlier post he predicted that the hand would “command our attention.” Viewer gaze data confirm this prediction. Daniel draws all gazes to him as he abruptly states “Listen….Paul,” and lifts his hand.
Gaze then shifts quickly; the raised hand becomes a stopping off point on the way to Paul’s face. . .
. . . finally following Daniel’s hand down as he grasps Paul’s in a handshake.
We like to watch
The rapid sequence of actions clearly guide our attention around the scene: Daniel – Hand -Paul – Hand. David’s analysis of how the staging in this scene tightly controls viewer attention was spot-on and can be confirmed by eyetracking. At any one moment in the scene there is a principal action signified either by dialogue or motion. By minimising background distractions and staging the scene in a clear sequential manner using basic principles of visual attention, P. T. Anderson has created a scene which commands viewer attention as precisely as a rapidly edited sequence of close-up shots.
The benefit of using a single long shot is the illusion of volition. Viewers think they are free to look where they want but, due to the subtle influence of the director and actors, where they want to look is also where the director wants them to look. A single static long shot also creates a sense of space, clear relationship between the characters, and a calm, slow pace which is critical for the rest of the film. The same scene edited into close-ups would have left the viewer with a completely different interpretation of the scene.
I hope I’ve shown how some questions about film form, style, practice, and spectatorship can be informed by borrowing theory and methods from cognitive psychology. The techniques I have utilised in recording viewer gaze and relating it to the visual content of a film are the same methods I would use if I was conducting an experiment on a seemingly unrelated topic such as visual search. (See this paper for an example.)
The key difference is that the present analysis is exploratory and simply describes the viewing behaviour during an existing clip. What we cannot conclude from such a study is which aspects of the scene are critical for the gaze behaviour we observe. For instance, how important is the dialogue for guiding attention? To investigate the contribution of individual factors such as dialogue we need to manipulate the film and test how gaze behaviour changes when we add or remove a factor. This type of empirical manipulation is critical to furthering our understanding of film cognition and employing all of the tools cognitive psychology has to offer.
But I expect an objection. Isn’t this sort of empirical inquiry too reductive to capture the complexities of film viewing? In some respects, yes. This is what we do. Reducing complex processes down to simple, manageable, and controllable chunks is the main principle of empirical psychology. Understanding a psychological process begins with formalizing what it and its constituent parts are, and then systematically manipulating and testing their effect. If we are to understand something as complex as how we experience film we must apply the same techniques.
As in all empirical psychology the danger is always that we lose sight of the forest whilst measuring the trees. This is why the partnership between film theorists and empiricists like myself is critical. The decades of film theory, analysis, practice and intuition provide the framework and “Big Picture” to which we empiricists contribute. By sharing forces and combining perspectives, we can aid each other’s understanding of the film experience without losing sight of the majesty that drew us to cinema in the first place.
A figure falls through the air. You don’t see him jump and you don’t see him hit the ground. He’s just falling through the light. A miner enters a cage. The cage plummets down, two miles into the body of the earth. He is descending through the dark. British artist Steve McQueen made what was his most ambitious cinematic installation to date for the extraordinary underground interior of the Lumiere at St Martins Lane in London’s West End. McQueen’s project brought together two different experiences from two different places – from the island of Grenada, where McQueen’s parents were born, and from a working gold mine in South Africa. Caribs’ Leap journeys into the historical interior of the Caribbean island of Grenada. In 1651, rather than surrendering to French soldiers, a large number of Caribs threw themselves over the cliffs onto the rocks below. This ultimate act of resistance is one focus of McQueen’s film which was largely shot on location in Sauteurs in Grenada, where this act of collective sacrifice took place. Western Deep journeys into the physical interior of the deepest fold mine in the world, the Tautona mines near Johannesburg in South Africa. McQueen takes the viewer into the darkness and claustrophobia of the lifts and shafts, the dust and the noise of the working faces. This definitive installation of McQueen’s work offered the viewer a tough, almost physical, viewing experience within the cavernous interior of the Lumiere at St Martins Lane. This project was supported by Arts Council England, Special Angels and The Company of Angels.
Over the last decade, Steve McQueen has been influential in expanding the way in which artists work with film. Among his films are Bear (1993), Deadpan (1997) which re-enacts Buster Keaton’s famous stunt in which he survives a house falling on his head, Drumroll (1998) involving a metal barrel, mounted with cameras, being rolled through the streets of Manhattan and Caribs’ Leap / Western Deep (2002) which was one of the highlights of the recent Documenta XI. Born in West London in 1969, he studied at Chelsea School of Art (1989-90) and Goldsmith’s College (1990-1993) in London, and at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, in New York (1993-94). He won the first ICA Futures Award in 1996 and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. In 1997, solo exhibitions of his work were held in Frankfurt, Eindhoven and New York, where he showed both at the Marian Goodman Gallery and at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1998 he won a DAAD artist’s scholarship to Berlin and, in 1999, besides exhibiting at the ICA and at the Kunsthalle in Zürich, won the Turner Prize. In 2003 he presented a major exhibition at Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris called Speaking In Tongues which included the breathtaking new piece Once Upon a Time, a collaboration with NASA and linguist William Samarin. In 2002 he was awarded the OBE. In 2003 McQueen was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum as Offical War Artist to Iraq, attracting international attention with a rare non-film work titled Queen and Country. More recently, he won the Camera d’Or and an International Film Critics Federation Prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival for his first feature film Hunger.
E-ISSN: 1553-3905 Print ISSN: 0892-2160Two of the MADdest scientists: where Strangelove Meets Dr. No; or, unexpected roots for Kubrick’s cold war classic Grant B. Stillman
Although the script of Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy Dr. Strangelove (1964) was adapted from the cold-war thriller Red Alert, Kubrick and his writers were inspired by a wide range of cultural references in the course of their radical transformation of the original material. The essay shows how Kubrick’s vision of nuclear brinksmanship drew on such sources as specific issues of the journals Foreign Affairs and Playboy, the recent film version of Ian Fleming’s Dr. No, and the work of photo journalist Usher Fellig (Weegee).Keywords
‘[A slightly irreverent story of] an American college professor who rises to power in sex and politics by becoming a nuclear Wise Man.’ Stanley Kubrick describing Dr. Strangelove to the New York Times at the start of preproduction. A.H. Weiler, ‘The East: Kubrick’s and Sellers’ New Film’, New York Times (6 May 1962): 149.
‘I remember watching it the first time, seeing Slim Pickens riding that bomb, thinking, how does somebody think that up?’ Sydney Pollack on ‘The 100 Greatest Moments in Movies, 1950–2000’ in Entertainment Weekly(24 September 1999).
Despite the deluge of serious and popular scholarship surrounding Stanley Kubrick and the genesis of his 1964 ‘nightmare comedy’ hit, Dr. Strangelove, some central questions have yet to be fully answered.1 Where did the name for the eponymous character memorably played by Peter Sellers really come from? What was the inspiration for some of the choicest ingredients in the screenplay, which do not figure in the original book?2 And what is the hidden connection between references in the film to magazines from two seemingly opposite ends of the market: the genteel Foreign Affairs and the iconoclastic Playboy? After nearly 45 years, and on the 80th anniversary of the director’s birth, some surprising new sources have turned up which cast light on the chance influences behind the most memorable moments of this masterwork that continues to resonate well after the end of the Cold War which begat it.3
The screenplay and the film certainly have much more depth and substance than the sources which inspired them, but we can still learn much from those screenplay roots which have their genesis in sources both mundane and esoteric.4 As Kubrick explained to New York Times critic Eugene Archer, a really great picture has a delirious quality in which you are constantly searching for meanings:
It’s all very elusive and very rich. There’s nothing like trying to create it. It gives you a sense of omnipotence – it’s one of the most exciting things you can find without being under the influence of drugs…. If I told you [the meanings of my films] it wouldn’t be ambiguous –and if you didn’t discover it for yourself, it wouldn’t mean anything anyway.5 [End Page 487]
What would you say if I told you there is a piece of paper from an unrelated third party, predating the script, on which appeared the names of Peter Sellers, Adlai Stevenson and Henry Kissinger, together with water fluoridation and Russian espionage conspiracies, laced with a flying circus spectacular? Too good to be true? A forgery? No, it actually exists, in of all places, Time magazine’s entertainment listings in their 17 February 1961 edition (which featured a lead article on the missile gap flap – or lack thereof –between the United States and Soviet Union).6 This was just the sort of clipping Kubrick would have been sure to place in the copious newspaper and magazine folder of nuclear inanities which he was compiling in preparation for the film.7 Taking a cue from the film’s Russian ambassador, who maintains that in the early 1960s the Soviet Union was easily able to gather most of its intelligence about U.S. secret plans from the New York Times, we see here a most unexpected root showing how Kubrick’s creative processes were sparked for some of the quirkiest moments in Dr. Strangelove.
Although one cannot be entirely certain, we are reasonably able to place Kubrick in New York City in the months following the Kennedy inauguration on 20 January 1961. This can be pieced together from hard evidence and reminiscences. His widow published a pair of photographs of a mustachioed James Mason, star of Lolita, visiting the Kubricks’ Central Park West penthouse apartment for tea or a home-cooked meal in early 1961.8 She also describes traveling with Kubrick and a second unit while photographing additional exteriors around the East Coast for the just-wrapped Lolita.9 This is confirmed by the unit’s cinematographer, Bob Gaffney, who recalls receiving a phone call from Kubrick saying he was back in New York after completing the principal studio photography in England. He wanted to go out on the road again to pick up more inserts of real American motels, stations, and taxis.10 So Kubrick would have easily had access to the 17 February issue of Time, and may have even been able to watch some of the East Coast television programs it recommended.11
As Kubrick explained in a conversation with Joseph Gelmis:
My idea of doing [the Red Alert property] as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay …. As I kept trying to imagine the way in which things would really happen, ideas kept coming to me which I would discard because they were so ludicrous. I kept saying to myself, ‘I can’t do that – people will laugh’. But after a month or so I began to realize that all the things I was throwing out were the things which were most truthful.12
Vincent LoBrutto’s biography of Kubrick lists the auteur’s voracious preparatory reading matter down to the highly specialized journal Missiles and Rockets, but somehow misses the widely influential Foreign Affairs and ever reliable Time.13 As a former photographer for rival Look magazine, it would be surprising if Kubrick did not also keep an eye on the Time-Life stable of photojournalistic publications, which covered aerospace and science stories particularly vividly. He picked up ‘A Delicate Balance of Terror’ – a phrase he occasionally used to describe the paradoxical nature of deterrence – from a 1959 Foreign Affairs article by RAND mathematician Albert Wohlstetter, and adopted it as a working title for one of the earliest surviving scripts for Strangelove.14
In their weekly cinema and television listings for that issue, Time concocted an irresistible menu (see Fig. 1).
It would be understandable for Kubrick’s eye to be drawn to a page headed by a favorable comment about the star of his current (and possibly next) project, Peter Sellers. Once looking at this listings section, he could quickly scan down to see an influential nuclear strategist already known to him, Henry Kissinger (here literally billed as the ‘Foreign Affairs Expert’) being interviewed on CBS with Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, the twice unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate who was to become an easily recognizable model for the film’s president, Merkin Muffley.15 Their topic was the foreign and nuclear strategy of the United States as a world power. A few weeks later Kubrick would have been able to read in the New York Times that Kissinger had taken an influential post as an adviser on national security at the Kennedy White House. Shortly after that, Kennedy would adjust U.S. policy on nuclear weapons to make them more useable, even envisaging a first-strike option, and increased funding for fallout shelters, just as Kissinger had been propounding since the appearance of his best-selling 1957 book Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy.16
We do not know if a recording survives of this [End Page 488]
‘Time Listings’ for the week’s cinema and television highlights, as published in the 17 February 1961 issue of Time, pp. 98, 100.
[End Page 489]
debate program, but existing footage of Kissinger from around this period shows him looking decidedly Strangelovean, with shady glasses and even the hint of his youthful coif. (See, for instance, clips of his television appearances, from around April 1962, in the documentary The Trials of Henry Kissinger [Eugene Jarecki, 2002], and the photograph of Kissinger as a university student reproduced in Walter Isaacson’s Kissinger: a Biography .) Nevertheless, Kubrick has gone on record as saying, ‘I think this is slightly unfair to Kissinger. … It was certainly unintentional. Neither Peter nor I had ever seen Kissinger before the film was shot’.17 That does not mean that Christiane Kubrick or the trusted make-up designer Stuart Freeborn had not caught sight of him on television or through photographs (‘un personage qui, aux dires de Kubrick, annoncait Kissinger’, she claimed).18 Note also that Kubrick deliberately chose the tongue-in-cheek code word ‘unintentional’, which was routinely used on all studio disclaimers even when a movie might be based on an historical figure well-known to the audience. Sellers, for his part, categorically maintained that ‘Strangelove was never modeled after Kissinger – that’s a popular misconception’.19 Even so, physically the youthful Kissinger and fair-haired Wernher von Braun were closer to the Sellers/Freeborn vision of Strangelove than the other candidates, such as the obese Herman Kahn or beetle-browed Edward Teller.20
The following quotation from Henry Kissinger’s ‘Arms Control, Inspection and Surprise Attack’, which appeared in the July 1960 edition of Foreign Affairs, includes just about every key story dynamic found in the film, and even ends with an admission of the ‘strangeness’ of his argument:
Technology is volatile. The advantage of surprise can be overwhelming. … Every country lives with the nightmare that even if it puts forth its best efforts its survival may be jeopardized by a technological breakthrough on the part of its opponent. … All countries should be concerned with preventing a war which might break out simply because of the automatism of the retaliatory forces.… It is safe to launch airplanes on the basis of an unconfirmed warning because a relatively long time-interval is available to determine the accuracy of the information and in that period the planes can be recalled.… If accidental war is to be avoided, there must be means by which the nuclear powers are able to inform each other rapidly and convincingly that an ambiguous action was not intended to be the prelude to a surprise attack. In the extremely unlikely event that one of our bombers crashed on a training mission and its hydrogen bomb exploded, it would be vital to have some means to convince the Soviet leaders rapidly that a genuine accident had occurred …. A minimum requirement is for a Joint Soviet-Western technical study, to examine the types of accident and miscalculation that can now be imagined …. Schemes that merit attention are the establishment of a communications system to enable the leaders of both countries to communicate instantaneously [i.e., the ‘red phone’ hotline forerunner]…. The notion of establishing a control system especially designed for critical periods admittedly sounds strange. But its strangeness is due to the fact that we still have not yet comprehended the revolutionary nature of our present world. The new technology can be mastered only by political innovations as dramatic as those in the field of science. [Emphases added]
Compare Kubrick’s views on technology, as quoted by A.H. Weiler in the New York Times:
There is an almost total preoccupation with a technical solution to the problem of the bomb. Our theme is that there is no technical solution. The arms race is not likely to produce an everlasting peace and, on the other hand, even a perfectly inspected disarmament program, if not accompanied by a profound moral change in nations and men, would lead to quick rearmament and war. The only solution and defense lies in the minds and hearts of men.21
Other elements unique to the Kubrick screenplay also seem to echo films and television programs highlighted in that week’s Time listings. Fluoridation was the serious debate topic of a talk show entitled ‘The Nation’s Future’ on NBC, prefiguring the use as a plot point of the John Birch Society’s rabid fear of fluoridation as a vast Communist conspiracy to infect capitalist society. A dramatic play shown earlier in the week, The Spy Next Door, hosted by Douglas Ed-wards (the narrator of Kubrick’s first film, Day of the Fight), was described as being about ‘Soviet intelligence operations in the U.S.’ In the film, General [End Page 490] ‘Buck’ Turgidson (George C. Scott) is portrayed as paranoid over the threat of Soviet spying by diplomats with hidden cameras (‘tiny equipment’). In the end it turns out that his fears were not without reason.
A surviving version of an early draft of the script envisaged sustained sequences of thrilling dogfights between the B-52 SAC bomber and Russian MIG interceptors.22 These elements would have been inspired in part by the adapted book, but could also have been enlivened by events like that week’s CBS Sunday Sports Spectacular featuring the World War II flying ace Gregory ‘Pappy’ Boyington – who would have been well known to Kubrick, once a schoolboy flying enthusiast. That program is described as being a flying circus where daredevils drop through the air for 6000 feet before pulling their parachutes. In the movie, this type of excitement pervades the near miss by the missile, evasive and low-flying tactics of the bomber, and finally Major T.J. ‘King’ Kong (Slim Pickens) bull riding the H-bomb over the target site.23 The fear of General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) that he might reveal his twisted secrets under torture is a key plot point from one of that week’s recommended movies, Circle of Deception.24
Keen-eyed observers have already pointed out that Miss Scott (Tracy Reed), the well-spoken Pentagon secretary under the sunlamp displaying (for the time) ample navel, also pops up as the centerfold in the Playboy magazine being admired by Major Kong in the cockpit.25 James Naremore has noted that a strategically-opened copy of Foreign Affairs covers her buttocks in the bearskin rug pose.26 Years later, after the vault negative of the film could not be located, Kubrick personally supervised the re-photography, frame-by-frame, of fine grain positive prints using his Nikon camera to preserve as much detail as he could in the early 1990s reconstruction.27 Was he trying to ensure that future viewers would be able to see the date of the Foreign Affairs cover? Or make out the pin-ups on the inside of the safe door carrying the codes on the B-52? It is still hard to make out the blurred date from existing copies of the film, and article titles were not placed on the cover at that time. But German and French lobby cards, and production stills featuring variations of Reed’s pose, enable us to see that the issue used for these publicity photo sessions, at least, was definitely Vol. 41, No. 2 – January 1963 – which featured lead articles by Wise Men Dean Acheson and Henry A. Kissinger.
‘Pappy’ Kong’s Flying Circus: Thunderbirds and James Bond regular Shane Rimmer helps Slim Pickens dodge a Soviet missile. [Author’s collection.]
In the film itself, the actual Playboy cover can, however, be precisely dated from its distinctive bikinied torso to June 1962 (other features for that month included the pictorial ‘A Toast to Bikinis’, a play on the testing-site atoll for nukes).28 The date
German reissue lobby card offering a better view of Miss Foreign Affairs. The ad on the back cover boasts that ‘Pan Am Jets can take you safely to any of 6 continents’. The issue also featured Henry Kissinger’s essay, ‘Strains on the Alliance’. [Author’s collection.]
[End Page 491]
this particular scene was shot would appear to have been nearly a year later, in the spring of 1963.29 Obviously, within the strict chronology of the movie itself, it would be impossible for Maj. Kong to be holding a June 1962 issue of Playboy which contained a centerfold featuring the January 1963 cover of Foreign Affairs. It should have been more convenient during production to use a current edition of Playboy or Foreign Affairs, but the contents of these particular 1962–63 issues had probably taken on a special significance to the director which we need to investigate more closely.30
The Reform of NATO Alastair Buchan
Judgment and Control in Modern Warfare Sir Solly Zukerman
Technology, Science and American Foreign Policy Caryl P. Haskins
Balance Sheet on Disarmament John J. McCloy
The Role of Deterrence in Total Disarmament Thomas C. Schelling
The Unsolved Problems of European Defense Henry A. Kissinger
Friends and Allies McGeorge Bundy
The Practice of Partnership Dean Acheson Strains on the Alliance Henry A. Kissinger
Scientists, Seers and Strategy Albert Wohlstetter The Historian and History Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.*
James Naremore has usefully compared quotations from Kissinger and Kahn to lines uttered in the film by Turgidson and Strangelove. Among many other instances, note Turgidson’s speeches on the ‘necessity for choice’ and ‘mine shelter/missile gap’, which echo Kissinger’s 1961 book The Necessity for Choice: Prospects for American Foreign Policy. Kubrick told Alexander Walker that it would be ‘difficult, and dramatically redundant, to try to top the statistical and linguistic inhumanity of nuclear strategists’.31 Certainly, close readings of these articles to compare them with ideas and even lines of dialogue from the film could prove particularly revealing. Co-screenwriter Terry Southern mentioned how he would rework the scenes with Kubrick for bigger laughs and sharper impact, each day coming into the studio in the backseat of their chauffeur-driven Bentley.32 During such sessions, Kubrick might be brimming with the latest techno-babble he picked up from devouring military journals, Foreign Affairs, Time, or Playboy (which also featured writers of the caliber of Arthur C. Clarke, his future 2001 collaborator, and James Bond creator Ian Fleming).33
We know for certain that Kubrick paid a visit to Alastair Buchan, the director of London’s Institute for Strategic Studies, as early as 1961.34 He was also in fairly frequent contact with Thomas Schelling and Herman Kahn, who could feed him the latest scary strategies, such as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), or limited nuclear war on the battlefields of Europe.35 Some of his contacts were placed highly enough to pass along rumors and personal gossip from inside the nuclear advisers’ circle of the RAND Corporation and the Kennedy administration. Just as filming was getting underway, Kubrick went so far as to tell Joe Breen’s successor at the Production Code Administration, Geoffrey Shurlock, that there was nothing in the film which had not already been represented in official government statements, including those of the President and his advisers.36 Throughout his career Kubrick was not afraid of borrowing the words and ideas of others and insidiously transforming them for his own ends. And he did not worry endlessly about trying to be original for the pure novelty of it.37
Much speculation has centered on exactly what Kubrick’s old friend, Weegee (née Usher Fellig), the eccentric crime and celebrity photographer of Naked City, was doing on the set for this production, apart from shooting some interesting portraits and production stills or offering pointers on high-contrast [End Page 492] source lighting.38 Kubrick knew Weegee as a fellow New York City photojournalist, and although he never explicitly acknowledged the influence of Weegee’s avant-garde documentaries and experimental shorts, he admitted to Hollis Alpert that it is possible to learn more from films that ‘deal with other things, like documentaries, a few moments in crazy avant-garde movies, and TV commercials, even if they’re things that only happen to work for five seconds…. [S]ome of the most imaginative filmmaking, stylistically, is to be found in TV commercials. Because they have to have compression, dramatize and make their point in about thirty seconds, some are made with unusual precision.’39 [Emphasis added]
Along with Drs. Kissinger, No, and Strangelove, Usher Fellig changed his name (to Arthur) on immigrating to the United States. It is conceivable that he could have been involved with the elaborate photographic set ups of the playmate centerfold layout with Tracy Reed as his model.40 A photograph published by Christiane Kubrick shows the director and cinema camera perched on a ladder above the bed for a Weegeeish high-angle down to the bikini-clad secretary, but this shot never it made it into the finished film, although the centerfold pin-up is taken from a slightly elevated position.41
Weegee also inadvertently supplied an unusual New York-German accent as the unwitting on-set voice model for Sellers’ characterization of Strangelove. But Kubrick confusingly explained to Alexander Walker that, ‘Strangelove’s accent was probably inspired by the physicist Edward Teller, who became known as the [loving?] father of the H-bomb, though Teller’s origins are Hungarian and his accent isn’t really that close to what Peter did’.42
We should not overlook the significance for Kubrick of this device of the hidden photographic revelation, as he was later to use it with devastating effect for the final revelation of the true nature of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) as a reincarnated axe murderer in The Shining (1980), through the use of his look-alike in the old Fourth of July party ballroom picture hanging in the haunted Overlook hotel.43
Scholars have rightly focused on the crucial contribution to the breakthrough look of the film of the legendary German-born production designer Ken Adam (himself an RAF veteran), but most have missed the significance of how he first came to Kubrick’s attention.44 In several interviews, Adam has mentioned that Kubrick told him he was very impressed by his set design (and the model work) in the original James Bond movie, Dr. No, which was released in October 1962.45 Apart from being a favorite author of John F. Kennedy, Ian Fleming was regularly serialized in Playboy; the March 1960 issue, for example, included not only Fleming, but future Kissinger friend Jill St. John.46 (The following month saw a favorable mention of Kubrick himself, and Peter Sellers was interviewed in the October 1962 issue.)
The June 1962 issue of Playboy, which is read by Maj. Kong in the B-52 cockpit, includes a Swiftian article from 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke; a profile of a playmate who is an avid fan of the James Bond series; a discussion between President Kennedy’s pal Mort Sahl and Edward Bernays, the propagator of water fluoridation; and a cartoon on trysts by Jules Feiffer, who was briefly consulted on the script. The beach bunny pin-ups on the inside of the B-52 safe door are taken from page 58 of the pictorial which ends, ‘so, toast the brief bikini – it was once just a nothing atoll’. Reproduced by Special Permission of Playboy magazine. [Copyright ©1962 by Playboy.]
In Fleming’s 1958 novel Dr. No we learn that the eponymous villain lost his hand, changed his German name upon assuming U.S. citizenship, and wanted to force missiles off their intended courses and targets. As a front for his secret Caribbean island base, he employed Cuban and Jamaican workers to [End Page 493]
Strangelove rises on Judgment Day. A riddle inside an enigma, or a shatteringly sick inside joke? [Author’s collection.]
mine guano, an ingredient in fertilizers and munitions (a conceit which goes back at least to Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, as does the machine camouflaged as a sea-monster/island-dragon).47 J. Hoberman perceptively observes that No’s secluded island palace, as designed by Ken Adam, seemed more like ‘a bachelor pad worthy of a six-page feature in Playboy’.48 Dr. Julius No meets his just demise in the novel when Bond entombs him in a guano avalanche, which apparently was too over-the-top for the film version.
Gambling with the fate of the world around Ken Adam’s casino-style conference table in the War Room. [Author’s collection.]
The wheelchair motif is harder to source with confidence, but it probably has some inspiration in the sexually frustrated, war-scarred, intellectual husband of Lady Chatterley in D.H. Lawrence’s novel, which was going through hard-fought obscenity trials for release in the early 1960s.49 This would be sure to have struck a chord with Kubrick, in both his censorship battles over Lolita and his interest in such ‘daring’ writers as Vladimir Nabokov and Arthur Schnitzler.50 Vincent LoBrutto ascribes to both Kubrick and Sellers the belief that politically powerful figures were really overcompensating for being impotent in some hidden way, and that could have been indicated by the wheelchair.51 This logic would be in line with Kubrick’s pre-production statement, cited earlier, given to the New York Times.
Ed Sikov quotes Sellers as saying that one day Kubrick suggested he should wear a black glove, which would look rather sinister on a man in a wheelchair. ‘“Maybe he had some injury in a nuclear experiment of some sort”, Kubrick said. I put on the black glove and looked at the arm and I suddenly thought, ‘Hey, that’s a storm-trooper’s arm’. So instead of leaving it there looking malignant I gave the arm a life of its own. That arm hated the rest of the body for having made a compromise. That arm was a Nazi”.’52 Certainly, Fritz Lang’s seminal mad scientist Rotwang can be glimpsed here, as Hughes and Naremore have separately pointed out, but I feel Kubrick was probably reminded more by the recent characterization of Dr. No, who, we are told in the film version, suffered from a nuclear accident to his hand.53 According to Adam, it was also Kubrick who suggested that the war room table should be covered with casino green baize, again highly reminiscent of Bond’s introduction with his famous catch-phrase over the gaming table. ‘It should be like a poker table: there’s the president, the generals and the Russian ambassador playing a game of poker for the fate of the world.’54
Of course, the steely-eyed Keenan Wynn characterization of the aptly-styled Colonel ‘Bat’ Guano deliciously skewered the Production Code Administration’s obsession with all forms of preversions, most subversively in the form of a ‘golden shower’ from a violated Coca-Cola vending machine (which both literally and figuratively went over their heads).55 Kubrick was particularly partial to juvenile yet erudite [End Page 494] plays on names, a penchant spurred by Nabokov’s use of anagrammatic characters in Lolita, the film he was just finishing at the time he was writing Dr. Strangelove.56 Perhaps he also noticed with impish relish that the character actor who portrayed Dr. No was none other than Joseph Wiseman (quite literally a nuclear Wise Man indeed)!57
Many claim to have traced the genesis of the title character’s name, from Kennedy Defense Secretary Robert Strange McNamara to fanciers of fine German merkin.58 Until we unearth a ‘smoking-gun memo’ in Kubrick’s own handwriting from the family archives, I can only submit for your consideration one further explanation. Strange to say, very few real people or fictional characters in the movies have names that begin with ‘Strang(e)’.59 One of the rare exceptions was the British MI6 Jamaican station chief created by Fleming, Jack Strangways, who is murdered in the first few minutes of Dr. No. In the movie his peculiar name is displayed prominently on the letterbox sign outside his gate. (A minor character is also called Jack Strangeways in the second version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.60 This Jack rants about mowing down ‘commies’ with a machine gun and getting a prize stud position repopulating a post-apocalyptic world – singular fantasies which reappeared in the obsessed generals in Kubrick’s movie.)61
Just as the X-ray revelation of underlying sketches behind an old master’s painting only enhances our appreciation of the final work, the discovery of these roots in no way diminishes the overall intellectual and artistic achievements of the screenplay. These unexpected sources show us the range of material collected by Kubrick and playfully exploited by him before the time of his collaboration with Terry Southern. Ultimately, they add support to Kubrick’s contention that he as auteur was primarily responsible for the key structural ingredients, and that Southern (and Sellers and to a lesser degree Scott) mainly added the decorative ‘icing on the cake’ by way of funnier punch lines to grace his unforgettable political comedy situations.62Grant B. Stillman
Grant B. Stillman, an international lawyer and historian at Geneva Institute of Advanced Studies, wrote Global Standard NGOs (2007) and directed schoolboy-movies It Came from a Test-tube and Silent G. A former critic, he lectures at Temple University Japan.Correspondence firstname.lastname@example.org
I should like to thank Matthew Leitner for showing me how film impacts political history, Jussi Hanhimaki for reintroducing Dr. Strangelove (East coast) to me, my father Allan for buying a copy of the Pan film tie-in edition of Dr. No and mentioning Harry Woods, and my son Tonio for teaching me to watch classics with eyes wide open.
* In his 1964 review of the film, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a contemporary of Kissinger as special assistant to the President, perceptively wrote that it was ‘fresh and funny and fascinating and terrible … overcrowded with ideas, effects, points, insights, some good, some less good, all slightly hurried and flattened by the tight artistic control’. Show [February 1964], quoted in Gene D. Phillips and Rodney Hill, The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick [New York: Facts on File, 2002], 94.
1. See, most recently, James Naremore, On Kubrick (London: British Film Institute, 2007), 119 ff.; Gary D. Rhodes (ed.), Stanley Kubrick: Essays on His Films and His Legacy (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2008); P.D. Smith, Doomsday Men: The Real Dr. Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon (London: Allen Lane, 2007), and Bill Krohn, Stanley Kubrick (Paris: Cahiers du Cinéma, Collection Grands Cinéastes, 2007). Also Geoffrey Cocks, The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History, & the Holocaust (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2004); Thomas Allen Nelson, Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000); Alexander Walker, et al., Stanley Kubrick, Director: a Visual Analysis (New York: Norton, 1999); Vincent LoBrutto, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Donald I. Fine Books, 1997); Gene Phillips (ed.), Stanley Kubrick: Interviews (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001); Norman Kagan, The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick (New York: Holt, 1990); Paul Boyer, ‘Dr. Strangelove’ in Mark C. Carnes (ed.), Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies (New York: Holt, 1996); George W. Linden, ‘Dr. Strangelove’ in Jack G. Shaheen (ed.), Nuclear War Films (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978); F. Anthony Macklin, ‘Sex and Dr. Strangelove’, Film Comment (Summer, 1965): 55–57, and Brian Siano, A Commentary on Dr. Strangelove, 1995, available at The Kubrick Site, www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0017.htm
2. Peter George, Red Alert [originally published as Two Hours to Doom] (New York: Ace Books, 1958), screen rights bought by Harris-Kubrick Polaris Productions for approx. ,000 ca. 1959–60 (Leon Minoff, ‘‘Nerve Center’ for a Nuclear Nightmare’, The New York Times, 21 April 1963, X7). Other collaborators on script development, apart from the novelist, initially included James B. Harris, cartoon humorist Jules Feiffer (fleetingly), and the ultimately credited co-screenwriter, Terry Southern, a Lenny Bruce intimate who worked on it from mid-November to end December 1962 (LoBrutto, 228, 249). The Dr. Strangelove character does not appear in the original book: see Randy Rasmussen, Stanley Kubrick: Seven Films Analyzed (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001), 6 and Jeffrey Townsend, et al., ‘Red Alert’ in John Tibbetts and James Welsh (eds), The Encyclopedia of Novels into Films (New York: Facts on File, 1999), 183–186.
3. Christopher Coker, ‘Dr. Strangelove and the Real Doomsday Machine’, The Times Literary Supplement: [End Page 495] Times Online, 8 August 2007. Real life has turned full circle and we now have a new Russian president by the name of Dmitry (just as in the movie), Cuba and the Castro brothers are back in the headlines and apparently a Soviet-era doomsday retaliation computer is still running somewhere deep underground.
4. Greg Jenkins, Stanley Kubrick and the Art of Adaptation, Three Novels, Three Films (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1997), 160. On a later occasion, Kubrick famously discovered the inspiration for his poetic title “Full Metal Jacket” from perusing a mundane gun catalog (Nelson, 230–231).
5. Eugene Archer, ‘How to Learn to Love World Destruction’, The New York Times (26 January 1964): X13.
6. Amazingly, this article blandly revealed to the reading public, including Soviet diplomats, that the U.S. was at that time installing 30 Jupiter missiles in Italy and another 15 in Turkey, something which was to so rankle Nikita Khrushchev in the coming months. Many had believed that the U.S. was falling behind the Soviet Union in the numbers of bombers and missiles, and candidate Kennedy and strategist Kissinger, playing upon this fear, criticized the Eisenhower administration for allowing this to happen. Said Kennedy in the 1960 campaign, ‘We are facing a gap on which we are gambling with our survival’. But the new Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara found that not to be the case after coming into office, embarrassingly announcing it to the press (he even joked about a ‘destruction gap’). This ‘gap’ paranoia is cleverly satirized in Gen. Turgidson’s final fear of allowing a ‘mine-shaft (i.e. deep bomb shelter) gap’ to open up. ‘DEFENSE The Missile Gap Flap’, Time (17 February 1961): 12–13.
7. As was his custom for all projects, Kubrick steeped himself in the literature and assiduously collected newspaper clippings and records about real-life nuclear near misses and bizarre accidents with H-bombs from various sources in preparation for the scriptwriting. James Howard, The Stanley Kubrick Companion (London: Batsford, 1999); see also Hughes, 122, and Minoff. The autodidact director with an interest in flying may also have run across stories of airmen falling out of bomb bays in mid-flight during the 1940s and 50s.
8. Christiane Kubrick, Stanley Kubrick, A Life in Pictures (New York: Little Brown, 2002), plates 97 and 98. East Coast locations for Lolita have been identified as New York, Gettysburg, Rhode Island, Albany, Newport, Vermont, Maine and Route 128. Shooting of 88 days started in England in November 1960 and ended in the U.S. in March 1961: Bernd Eichhorn, et al. (eds), Stanley Kubrick (Kinematograph #20, Frankfurt am Main: Deutsches Filmmuseum, 2004), 286.
9. Christiane Kubrick, plate 99. Stanley Kubrick’s version of Lolita was released in the U.S. on 13 June 1962, eighteen months after Sellers had completed his scenes in it. The comedy actor was bruited for a Best or Supporting Actor nomination, which did not eventuate. Ed Sikov, Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 2002), 163–164.
10. Gaffney also believes that around this time he recommended Terry Southern’s satiric cult novel The Magic Christian (London: Andre Deutsch, 1959) to Kubrick, although others including Sellers have made that claim (Gaffney interview with LoBrutto, 211, 212, 231).
11. This issue of Time also relates how the new President played hooky from the Oval Office to catch a screening of Kubrick’s Spartacus (p. 15) and refers to Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the book review section (p. 94). There is even a photographic ad featuring a Ryan Vertijet ‘Manned Missile’ (p. 96).
12. Joseph Gelmis, The Film Director as Superstar (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 109. Kubrick also related to Minoff on the set that he had begun to see it as a grim comedy while working with Peter George on the adaptation in his New York apartment.
13. LoBrutto, 231.
14. Albert Wohlstetter, ‘The Delicate Balance of Terror’ (abridged version), Foreign Affairs, 37 (January 1959): 211–234. Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove (documentary by David Naylor, 2000). A screenplay draft dated 31 August 1962, bearing Kubrick’s byline alone, used the Forbidden Planet (1956) conceit of an extraterrestrial archeological expedition to the long-dead civilization of mankind on a desolated Earth which was later dropped: ‘Nardac Blefescu (alien producer’s anagram?) presents …. A Macro-Galaxy-Meteor Picture’, David Hughes, The Complete Kubrick (London: Virgin, 2000), 108–109.
15. In a letter from New York to his London film editor, Anthony Harvey, dated 15 November 1961, Kubrick recommends that he read Herman Kahn’s On Thermonuclear War (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1960) and Henry Kissinger’s The Necessity for Choice; Prospects of American Foreign Policy (New York: Harper, 1961); Harvey Papers, Lilly Library, Bloomington, cited by Naremore, 119, note 1. James B. Harris recalls that Kubrick made him read Kahn’s book during their initial script development. Harris interview, Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove (Naylor, 2000). Sikov (194) repeats the oft-made claim that Kissinger was not yet a public figure when the film was made, but his contemporary prominence on the New York Times bestseller booklist for four months, media interviews and photos in newspapers, and regular mentions in the popular Time magazine (even eliciting fan mail from average readers) [End Page 496] belies that assertion. The Time movie review of 31 January 1964 refers to the character of President Muffley (Peter Sellers) as being a ‘vaguely Steven-sonian liberal’. Somewhat disingenuously, Kubrick maintained that there was ‘absolutely no relationship’ between Muffley and any real person (Eugene Archer, op. cit). But Sunday Telegraph columnist Peregrine Worsthorne (‘if that really was his name’, to borrow a line from the movie) could see that ‘all the Americans portrayed are beautifully observed studies of everything which non-Americans dislike and fear most about American character. … They seem to be drawn straight out of the pages of Krokodil [a Soviet humor magazine]’; quoted in James Feron, ‘Dr. Strangelove Provokes Britons’, The New York Times (5 February 1964): 29. By the late 1960s Time was routinely referring to Kissinger and Edward Teller as ‘Drs. Strangelove, East and West’. Jussi Hanhimaki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 11.
16. The new president did not suffer from a shortage of ‘doctors’ in his coterie of advisers, not least of which was the controversial Max Jacobson, a.k.a ‘Dr. Feel-good’, the unconventional pep-pill pushing, vitamin-injecting guru of high society. (Indeed the pills and paraphernalia included in Maj. Kong’s aircrew survival kit could well have been found in the presidential emergency medical briefcase at that time!) Kennedy was later to convene a panel of ‘Wise Men’, led by former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, to help him through the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. That political phrase, dating back to the 1920s if not earlier, began to reenter the pages of Time magazine throughout 1962. It became the iconic title of Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas’ The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made: Acheson, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett, McCloy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986). The majority of them were frequent contributors to Foreign Affairs (see table).
17. Sikov, 194.
18. Christiane Kubrick, caption to plate 112.
19. Michael Starr, Peter Sellers: A Film History (London: Robert Hale, 1992).
20. On Kahn, see Louis Menand, ‘Fat Man: Herman Kahn and the Nuclear Age’, The New Yorker (27 June2005): 96.
21. A.H. Weiler, ‘The East: Kubrick’s and Sellers’ New Film’, New York Times (6 May 1962): 149.
23. The novel described the bomber making a kamikaze crash-dive, without a thermonuclear detonation, for the original climax (Naremore, 120). Early images of ‘bomb riding’ by ground crew can be glimpsed in WWII documentary footage about U.S. bomber command in England featuring a young Curtis LeMay (model for SAC Gen. Jack D. Ripper). Other possible sources include Japanese manned torpedoes; an episode of the popular children’s TV show Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (with characters such as ‘T.J.’, ‘Ace’ and Maj. ‘Blastoff’ echoing names and phrases in the film) aboard their gravity-gyro spaceship ‘Polaris’ (also Kubrick’s production company’s name); and even the midair acrobatics of Warner Bros. cartoon character Wile E. Coyote (a Kubrick favorite) with rockets and cannons. But Ken Adam believes the iconic bomb-riding only occurred to Kubrick after he decided to cast at the last-minute the cowboy character actor Slim Pickens, who wore a Stetson and bronco-busted in real life (LoBrutto, 237). A chicken and egg which-came-first conundrum to be sure.
24. Also original in Kubrick’s version (although apparently not featured on New York television that week), was stereotypical Royal Air Force Officer Lionel Mandrake (Sellers again), who is let down by limp prosthetic limbs like those of the British ace Douglas Bader, and who speaks of his conflicting experiences as a Japanese POW on the Burma railroad (see Churchill’s war series in the Time listings) and his love of their compact, state-of-the-art cameras (an enthusiasm shared by Sellers and Kubrick in real life).
25. Among the earliest was Siano, at para. 18. See also the analysis of this sole female character by Peter Baxter, ‘The One Woman’, Wide Angle 6:1 (1984): 34–41. During Reed’s audition, Kubrick explained to her that the character was little more than a bikini-clad ‘floozie’. Reed interview, Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove (Naylor, 2000).
26. Naremore, 126.
27. See Tim Cahill, ‘The Rolling Stone Interview with Stanley Kubrick’, Rolling Stone (27 August 1997); LoBrutto, 250.
28. Cocks, 110. No doubt Kubrick was also teasing the Production Code office who warned him that extremely brief bikinis of the kind being worn by starlets Ursula Andress or Jill St. John would not be tolerated in this production.
29. Principal photography on Dr. Strangelove started at Shepperton Studios, England, in January 1963. Kinematograph #20 gives a shooting timeline from February to May 1963 (286). Hughes states (112) that filming took fifteen weeks and was completed on 23 April 1963.
30. A surviving photograph of Kubrick’s corkboard of index cards and notes for the editing room shows he referred to the secretary character in his own handwriting as ‘Miss F.A.’, which could also be a [End Page 497] play on (Sweet) Fanny Adams, etc. (Christiane Kubrick, plate 229). See Harvey’s reminiscences of rearranging the scenes on the moviola using this board in LoBrutto (244) and Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove (Naylor, 2000), and also Tracy Reed’s introduction to the world as ‘Miss Foreign Affairs’ in the puff piece for the People section, Time, 15 March 1963.
31. Naremore, 124–125; Walker, et. al.,134.
32. Quoted in LoBrutto, 233 and Hughes, 129. See also Terry Southern, ‘Strangelove Outtake: Notes from the War Room’, Grand Street 13 (Summer, 1994): 64–80. However, Ken Adam told Boris Hars-Tschachotin that he picked up Kubrick to drive him to the studio each day (‘Superpower Paranoia Expressed in Space: The War Room as the Key Visual in Dr. Strangelove’ in Kinematograph, #20, 76). Be that as it may, Kubrick, Scott and Sellers all attest to many changes being made by the cast or director on the set or during their improvisations (LoBrutto, 239, Kubrick to Philips). Strangelove film editor Anthony Harvey recalled that the version as filmed bore little resemblance to the original shooting script (LoBrutto, 243).
33. LoBrutto, 233.
35. Minoff; Naremore, 124; and LoBrutto, 225, 242. Kahn rarely published in Foreign Affairs, compared with the prolific Kissinger, Buchan, and to a lesser extent Schelling.
36. LoBrutto, 232, 233.
37. Kubrick told the Observer newspaper on 4 December 1960, ‘I haven’t come across any recent new ideas in film that strike me as being particularly important and that have to do with form. I think that a preoccupation with originality of form is more or less a fruitless thing.’ Quoted in Thomas Elsaesser, ‘Evolutionary Imagineer, Stanley Kubrick’s Authorship’, Kinematograph #20, 141.
38. See, for instance, Daniel Kothenschulte, ‘Caked or Distorted: What was Photographer Weegee doing on the set of Dr. Strangelove?’ Kinematograph #20, 96. Naked City (Cincinnati: Zebra Picture Books, 1945) was thought to have inspired the Jules Dassin movie of the same name, which in turn influenced Kubrick’s early work. But see Anthony Lee and Richard Meyer, Weegee and ‘Naked City’ (Berkeley: Universituy of California Press, 2008).
39. Hollis Alpert, ‘Is It Strangelove? Is It Buck Rogers? Is It the Future? Offbeat Director in Outer Space’, New York Times (16 January 1966): SM8.
40. Kothenschulte (98) mentions seeing some kaleidoscopic lens pictures taken by Weegee of a female model who could have been Reed or her double. Reed also posed for more provocative lobby cards and color posters used in the European publicity campaigns, where the artist’s rendering of the Foreign Affairs cover can be made out more clearly (Hughes, 118).
41. Christiane Kubrick, plate 130.
42. Sikov, 194, 239.
43. See photograph as reproduced in Rhodes, 2 and Kinematograph #20, 187.
44. Among the earliest to spot a possible connection here was critic J. Hoberman, ‘When Dr. No. met Dr. Strangelove’, Sight & Sound 3 (new series, December 1993): 16–21, although he saw it mainly in terms of the types of movies and books favored by the style-setting Kennedys. Rasmussen (48) did remark on the subconsciously motivated gloved hands of No and Strangelove, but failed to notice the many other ingredients they shared in common.
45. Interview with Ken Adam by Boris Hars-Tschachotin, ‘For Him, Everything Was Possible’, Kinematograph #20, 88.
46. For Kennedy’s interest in Fleming, see Halsey Raines, ‘Dr. No in a Caribbean Theatre of Movie Operations’, New York Times (25 March 1962): 125. This article also describes the exotic location filming in Jamaica with newcomer Sean Connery, and concludes by drawing attention to the casting of Joseph Wiseman as the villain – who would shoot all his scenes back in England.
47. In an off-beat story entitled ‘Santa & Guano’, Time reported on 19 October 1959 that Fidel Castro had nationalized Cuba’s bat guano caves.
48. Hoberman, 18.
49. An underground English edition of the banned novel was first circulated in 1929 by Australian publisher P.R. ‘Inky’ Stephensen under the Mandrake Press imprint, which also echoes the name of Sellers’ legless RAF ace.
50. Kubrick adapted Schnitzler’s Traumnovella (1925) as his final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999). During their short Strangelove collaboration, Kubrick and Terry Southern brainstormed the idea for a ‘blue movie’ project using big budget stars after viewing rushes from a pornographic film (Hughes, 265–266). Nelson, too, has remarked upon the character’s mechanized means and modes of animation and locomotion (102).
51. LoBrutto, 239. In the last year of his life, the U.S. government scientific adviser John von Neumann, who dreamt of controlling the weather through polar cap manipulation, was confined to a wheelchair as a result of radiation-related bone cancer which spread to his brain; in the rival movie Fail Safe, directed by Sidney Lumet (1964), the Secretary of Defense walks in on crutches. Recall also the Germanic millionaire villain, played by John Hoyt, who [End Page 498] desperately struggles to his feet from his wheelchair at the apocalyptic end of When World’s Collide (1951); see Alec Nevala-Lee and J. Kastof, Strangelove’s ‘Erection’: A Parody of [George] Pal?, available at The Kubrick Site, www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0034.html It is quite plausible that Kubrick could have viewed this hit science fiction film and been struck by the scene, as he had recently directed the dependable Hoyt in the role of Caius in Spartacus (1960). Only the second version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover includes a scene where the wheelchair-bound husband attempts to walk on crutches to impress his returning wife; The Cambridge Edition of the Works of D.H. Lawrence, The Second Lady Chatterley.
52. Sikov, 194. In this, Sellers somehow anticipated modern medical science’s discovery of the alien arm syndrome by at least three decades, although the British horror film The Hands of Orlac (1960) had the transplanted hands of a deceased murderer taking over the hero’s actions and thoughts like a Hyde alter ego. (Strangelove’s make-up artist Stuart Freeborn also worked on this version of the often-filmed tale.) Other memorable artificial limbs in the horror canon include Lionel Atwill’s inspector in Son of Frankenstein (1939).
53. Hughes, 122; Naremore, 132. As expected, Kubrick once again disavowed any intentional similarities to Lang’s mad scientist character (Siano, para. 48). Christiane Kubrick also notes how impressed her husband was by the first James Bond movie. Interestingly, of all Kubrick’s genre films, only a few moments from Dr. Strangelove come close to the spy movies of the 1960s, to which directors as diverse as John Huston and Ken Russell turned their hand. Our Man Flint (1965), for instance, has to contend with a troika of weather-controlling mad scientists along with a steel gloved arch-nemesis. Kubrick’s fascination with the Bond series continued up to his uncredited lighting advice (Adam interview, 95) on the monumental supertanker interior set designed by Adam in 1976 for The Spy Who Loved Me.
54. Adam interview in Vincent LoBrutto, By Design: Interviews with Film Production Designers (Westport: Praeger, 1992), 42, cited by Hars-Tschachotin, 82; also LoBrutto, 235. Walker felt the war room circular conference table was meant to resemble a roulette-wheel, and the ‘Big Board’ threat map, a pinball scoreboard (Walker, et al., 131).
55. Responding to early criticisms of the movie’s humor, Sellers facetiously wrote to a London newspaper that he had also played the partof the Coca-Cola machine ‘and shall always regard it as one of [his] neatest imitations’. ‘Debate over ‘Strangelove’ Film Echoes Happily at the Box Office’, The New York Times (10 February 1964): 21.
56. Kubrick may have learned from Sellers and fellow Goon Show writer Spike Milligan (sometimes credited with suggesting the revival of Vera Lynn’s nostalgic closing song ‘We’ll Meet Again’) how they used to test BBC standards and practices by trying to get away with ribald British army names, such as ‘Hugh Jampton’, that scanned acceptably in the written script, but which could be said suggestively out loud during the radio broadcast. See Angela Morley (née Wally Stott) reminiscences to Sikov, 82. Kubrick’s own struggles with the censors even led him to preemptively footnote on an early script that the obscene surname of ‘Schmuck’ existed in real life and could be found on a certain page in the New York telephone book, ca. 1960. In the end, though, he accepted that he could not get away with explicit words and military swearing, so resorted euphemistically to Turgid(s)on and Merkin to amuse the more literate of his audience.
57. Already at that time Wiseman was a well-respected and busy New York-based character actor, who had memorably appeared opposite Kirk Douglas in Detective Story (1951) and frequently guested on prestige TV anthology programs, such as Armstrong Circle Theatre. He and Kubrick were also linked to the 1950s dance world through their ballerina wives. ‘Joseph Wiseman’ entry in The Internet Movie Database ( www.imdb.com ).
58. To his credit, Sikov is not one of them. Despite using the name for his life of Sellers and after extensive primary research, he is still none the wiser for its derivation and can offer no explanation. Co-screen-writer Terry Southern, although he often wrote about his experiences on the film, remained strangely silent on this matter. Even the widow and son of Southern can only speculate and seem slightly unsure of exactly who was responsible for thinking up the name; see their interviews for Inside the Making of Dr. Strangelove (Naylor, 2000). And Kubrick is using the odd name in his interview with Weiler as early as May 1962, at least six months before his collaboration with Southern.
59. The Internet Movie Database turns up an English second unit director interested in novel camera mounts, as was Kubrick, by the name of Stan Strangeway (The Green Helmet, 1961), as well as the monster character actor Glenn Strange. ‘Strange-ways’ was also the name of a Manchester prison where notorious sex criminal ‘Buck’ Ruxton was hanged in the 1930s. Early script references to the character of the president’s weapons adviser had him styled more simply ‘Von Klutz’, with steel-rimmed spectacles, approximating more Mel Brooks and the early 1960s penchant for satirizing NASA’s chain-smoking resident genius, Wernher von Braun (hear, e.g. Tom Lehrer’s eponymous ditty of this period, and recall the putdowns by frequent Playboy contributor and Kennedy speechwriter Mort Sahl). [End Page 499]
60. To secure a more favorable reception, D.H. Lawrence even considered renaming his controversial work Tenderness, coincidentally prefiguring the suggestive 1932 song Kubrick chose to run under his main titles, ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ (music by the perennial Warner Bros. and Kubrick favorite, Harry M. Woods who, again coincidentally, was born with a fingerless stump for his left hand!).
61. In another passage Lawrence has his gamekeeper declare his love in these bleak terms: ‘I shouldn’t care if the bolshevists [sic] blew up one half of the world, and the capitalists blew up the other half, to spite them, so long as they left me and you a rabbit-hole apiece to creep in, and meet underground like the rabbits do’. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of D.H. Lawrence, The Second Lady Chatterley, 564.
62. Kubrick’s formal statement on Southern’s contribution to the screenplay, quoted in Lee Mishkin, ‘Kubrick Threatens Suit on Strangelove Writer’, New York Morning Telegraph, 12 August 1964 (cited by LoBrutto, 249). [End Page 500]
“The important thing isn’t how many people come to see your work. The important thing is having to live with it for the rest of your life.”
“Hollywood is run by small-minded people who like chopping the legs off creative people.”
Terry Gilliam has been a very important artist and filmmaker since the 1970s. His two most distinctive specialties, animation and directing, work separately and in tandem, like the interconnected dual strings of a DNA double helix. The more I study him and Intermedia, the less I would actually categorize him as an Intermedia artist, though he has many influences derived from intermedial art and he often does adapt an intermedial approach in his work, in breaking the boundaries of what is expected and accepted in the media within which he works, as well as his combinations of media to relay his message.
On his own website, www.terrygilliam.com, his biography, written by Eric Bloch, reads:
For most of Terry Gilliam's early career, fans of the popular comedy show Monty Python's Flying Circus assumed that he was British, since Python's other five members were natives of Britain. But the innovative animator and future director, who spent more time behind the scenes than in front of the camera, was actually the troupe's only American member. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 22, 1940, Gilliam was briefly employed by Mad Magazine as a writer/illustrator before he emigrated to England in 1967.
The above biographical sketch leaves out some important details of his early career, however. A much more detailed description of Gilliam’s early years was written by Noell Wolgram Evans:
Terry Gilliam was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1940. After an uneventful childhood he found himself at Occidental College in California studying physics. He soon switched to the art department but after a run-in with a professor, he switched his major again and graduated as a Political Scientist.
At Occidental, in a quest to stretch his creativity, Gilliam joined the staff of ‘Fang’, the college’s literary magazine. Influenced strongly by ‘Mad Magazine’ and ‘Help!’ (a national humor magazine), he moved ‘Fang’ away from its literary roots and more towards the visual arts while making comedy the focus of every issue.
The editor of ‘Help!’, and one of the co-founders of ‘Mad’, was Harvey Kurtzman. Gilliam was extremely influenced by the work that Kurtzman was producing and, in an effort to be accepted by one of his idols, he would routinely send copies of ‘Fang’ to Kurtzman in New York City. Gilliam sent several issues, and finally one day he received a response. Harvey’s positive words danced around Gilliam’s brain planting the desire in him to meet the great master. So after graduating, and with no real desire to put his degree to work, Gilliam boarded a bus to New York to meet Harvey Kurtzman.
Kurtzman could not have been more surprised in the early 1960’s when this kid from California knocked on his door and said: ‘Here I am’. He also couldn’t have been more relived. In a twist of fate that seems to only happen in stories like this, the Assistant Editor of ‘Help!’ was quitting and Kurtzman had been having a difficult time filling the opening. With a great resume and precision timing, Gilliam got the job.
As Assistant Editor, Gilliam had the opportunity to work with a number of celebrities in the creation of ‘Help!’s’ content.
One of these celebrities was John Cleese, who starred in Gilliam’s photonovel or fumetti titled “Christopher’s Punctured Romance.” The tale concerns a man who is shocked to learn that his daughter’s new “Barbee” doll has “titties”; however, he falls in love with the doll and has an affair.
When Gilliam was living in New York, he had the opportunity to see ‘Death Breath’ (1964, Stan van der Beek). This simple, short, stop-motion animation featured Richard Nixon, in photographic form, trying to talk with a foot in his mouth. The simplistic surreality of it made a significant impact on Gilliam.
Gilliam worked at ‘Help!’ until the magazine wore down and then moved to California before heading off to London with his then-girlfriend in 1967.
In addition to Cleese, Gilliam also worked with Graham Chapman at “Help!” In London, Cleese and Chapman introduced Gilliam to a producer who hired him to do caricatures for a television show called Do Not Adjust Your Set. From there, he joined We Have Ways of Making You Laugh as part of the resident company which included Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle. (from Film Comment, Anne Thompson. Reprinted in Terry Gilliam: Interviews.) Soon after, Monty Python was formed.
Early animations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KUqHzk26kI
In 1969, the first episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” aired. Gilliam was given free reign to animate, with the only restriction being the time he was allowed for each clip. Gilliam specialized in cut-out animation, drawing from and combining a variety of sources such as classical art, politics and religion, resulting in a very tongue-in-cheek yet benign and gentle satire. The television show ended in 1975, the same year the Python crew made their first movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which Gilliam co-directed with Terry Jones. Gilliam also provided his trademark animations.
Again, in this as in other Python movies such as Life of Brian (which was directed by Jones), the troupe used that same blend of satire against society, religion and politics, amusing those intelligent enough to understand they were anti-hypocrisy as opposed to anti-religion (etc.) and of course offending many others, which was a frustrating side effect of their work. In a television interview of several Pythoners, Michael Palin became visibly upset when asked why they had made an anti-religious film.
In the years since, Gilliam has directed a long list of impressive films. Though his focus moved more toward directing and away from animation, his animation style can be seen clearly through his directorial vision in films such as Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and in the recent Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, which also features his animations in several of the fantasy sequences.
1977 saw the release of Jabberwocky, directed and co-written by Gilliam and based on Lewis Carroll’s poem. The film starred Michael Palin and included cameos of Terry Jones and Python collaborator Neil Innes, and was quite similar in style and substance to Holy Grail. Though the movie also shares many Pythonesque themes such as hypocrisy and dealing with unfair, unreasonable bureaucracy, it has a unambiguously happy ending, rare for a Gilliam or Python film.
In 1981, Gilliam directed Time Bandits, which he wrote with Michael Palin in response to the fairy tales he was then reading to his four-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Though it is a movie for children, it is something very different from the norm of children’s stories or movies, but Gilliam said in a 1982 interview with David Sterritt: “The trouble with adults is that they don’t really look at children. They look at their own romantic views of their own childhoods. Kids are very clear-minded. They don’t have our prejudices, our structures, our pigeonholed ways of looking at life. And they can be ruthless. Though they have less experience than adults, they are no less intelligent. Their minds are just as active – more so, in fact, because they haven’t been limited or defined yet.” (Sterritt)
In 1983, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life was released. Co-directed by Jones and Gilliam and once again written by and starring all of the Pythoners, “Gilliam directs a portion of this movie called ‘The Crimson Permanent Assurance,’ in which a group of elderly insurance clerks plot a mutiny. Later in the movie, another highlight is to watch Terry Gilliam have his internal organs bloodily removed” (http://www.smart.co.uk/dreams/tgfilmo.htm).
Brazil came out in 1985 and once again revisited the theme of an everyman against a heavy-handed, misguided bureaucracy. Gilliam directed it and co-wrote it with Tom Stoppard and Charles McKeown. On the DVD commentary of Brazil, Gilliam states: “[In] The Ministry [of Information] …I love the idea of nuns, so we’ve got the State, we’ve got the military, we’ve got religion all gathered together under a great statue, which is ‘The Truth Shall Make You Free.’ It’s the one thing this world [in Brazil] doesn’t operate on, is truth, and they glorify it. Usually you spot how society’s working by what they glorify; it’s usually the thing they’re deficient in.”
One of Gilliam’s influences for Brazil was Italian director Federico Fellini, especially the movie 8 1/2. “I’d always been a Fellini fan, but something about 8 ½, it just got under my skin. Creativity is really what it’s about. It just happens to be about a movie director. It’s about the process of trying to make something and knowing you don’t know how to make it, and everybody waiting for you to come up with the solution.” (from http://www.smart.co.uk/dreams/tgclip.htm)
Three years later came the release of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Gilliam once again directed, as well as co-writing with McKeown. Gilliam was first introduced to the Munchausen stories when visiting George Harrison’s home in 1979. Unfortunately, this would be one of the first in a long line of near-disasters in movie-making that Gilliam would face for years to come. Despite the many things that did go wrong during filmmaking, the movie got many good reviews:
Richard Corliss in Time was an early enthusiast. “Everything about Munchausen deserves exclamation points,” he declared, “and not just to clear the air of the odor of corporate flop sweat. So here it is! A lavish fairy tale for bright children of all ages! Proof that eccentric films can survive in today’s off-the-rack Hollywood! The most inventive fantasy since – well, Brazil!” (Yule)
In 1991, The Fisher King was release, the first Gilliam would direct without writing. It was also the first that was set in a contemporary setting, though it still held elements of a fairy tale, and references to a Grail search:
Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) is a New York shock jock in the vein of Howard Stern, fueled by his conceit and the media familiarity with his image. His listeners, we gather, are typically insecure, unhappy people. One named Edwin is a frequent caller who in a sporadic fit of rage takes Jack’s advice too literally, and guns down a flock of customers in a restaurant and then himself. Jack hears of the horror and his influence is made known to him with enormous gravity.
Three years later we see Jack, now a self-pitying alcoholic, living with Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), a video store clerk. Jack’s woes become unbearable. He drinks himself into a glazed stupor, affixes concrete bricks to his feet and stands eager on the bank of the Hudson River. To Jack, death is a welcome change in an existence he cannot tolerate. Jack is unexpectedly rescued by a bizarre homeless army, headed by the show-tune singing Parry. Parry suffers from mental hysteria after witnessing his wife’s traumatic death. (It should be of note that Robin Williams’ characteristic overplay is appropriate to the role of Parry.)
Parry befriends Jack in an attempt to enlist him in his quest to find the Holy Grail (this is familiar). Parry’s quest is prophesised by the product of his bowels – cute little brown floating fat people, he calls them. He claims they have told him Jack is “the One”. Jack relents until he ealizes that Parry’s condition results from the very act of violence inspired by his radio broadcast. In a desperate attempt to redeem himself, Jack agrees to help.
Distinct parallels may be drawn between the two characters: foremost, they are both suffering from unnerving events in their pasts. By aiding each other, Jack and Parry are in turn mending their own wounds. The Fisher King is a sensitive and frank story of redemption.
Although Gilliam’s vision is repressed there are scenes in which it is exalted in brief, violent spurts. The film’s most famous image (at least one I’ve seen cited repeatedly in trailers for television broadcasts of the film) is of a populated waltz in Grand Central Station that employs over four-hundred extras. Parry’s imagined nemesis is the Red Knight, the horrid manifestation of the memory of his wife. The spectre is a horseman strewn in red shards of fabric and armour, and jettisons streams of fire from his mouth. These images, and a few others, achieve an impact in their sparing use, and in service to narrative – this detail, particularly, is contrary to Gilliam’s earlier works, in which narrative is an incidental feature.
The Fisher King is ostensibly a contemporary fairy tale, though its love story I find to be its most uniquely felt aspect. The film’s characters are realistically motivated (notably, this is the first of Gilliam’s efforts not to include a Monty Python alum) and the feelings and impulses attributed to them are inherently human; this is an unforeseen and innovative aspect in Gilliam’s career. (Rumsey Taylor on http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/gilliam.html)
Gilliam’s next film was notably different from his early work, and this time, there was a much greater distance between him and what he’d done with Monty Python. Based on Hunter S. Thompson’s book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was also far less a “fantasy for bright children” than a nightmare for adults. Visually rich, lush and disturbing, and featuring two prominent Hollywood actors known for their looks – Johnny Depp and the “Puerto Rican Brad Pitt,” Benicio del Toro, now transformed into grotesque caricatures, the special effects sequences are still reminiscent of Gilliam’s earlier animations, with elements of the ridiculous that often take the viewer by surprise. Gilliam’s portrayal of drug use and acid trips convinced most people that he was quite familiar with these drugs, although, according to Gilliam in an interview for Reel to Reel, he wasn’t really a user: “I was always frightened of taking acid when I was younger, because I just thought, my reality was so twisted already, if acid…it would have taken me right over the edge.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4QOU8wS7jI) In the same interview (which is undated on this reference but takes place shortly after the film’s release), Gilliam discusses the problems with making Hollywood movies: “The sad thing about it is, because things are getting so big, so costly, it means you only do the same movie again and again. The subject matter becomes more and more simplistic. You don’t deal with any real issues. You don’t disturb the audience. You don’t make them think. You just give them the safe, secure, guaranteed ride.” This is definitely something Gilliam has been fighting against through his entire filmmaking career. Gilliam also burned his WGA card as a result of a fight he had with the WGA over screenwriting credits for Fear and Loathing.
Gilliam’s dispute with the WGA started when it declared that the writing credit for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas should be attributed to Alex Cox and Tod Davies, whereas Gilliam and co-writer Tony Grisoni asserted that they wrote their own script direct from Hunter S. Thompson’s classic book. After Gilliam complained to the WGA, the script writing credit in the movie was given to Gilliam, Grisoni, Cox, and Davies.
The Fear and Loathing script has been published by Applause books, and at a book signing at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in the Lincoln Center in NYC on May 20 1998, a still seething Gilliam burned his WGA card. (http://www.smart.co.uk/dreams/flwga.htm)
Gilliam then went on to start work on something he’d been wanting to do for years, a film version of “Don Quixote de la Mancha” titled The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. So many problems plagued the production that the movie never did get made, though a documentary about the failure was released, titled Lost in La Mancha (2002). (The movie is once again in pre-production as of 2010.)
In 2005, Gilliam released Tideland, once again directing and co-writing the film. He described it as “a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Psycho.” Starring Jeff Bridges (from Fisher King), it opens with a scene of a 12-year-old girl preparing heroin for her father.
Tideland, based on a novel by Mitch Cullin, found opposition even before it was made. With such a dark and unusual story, Gilliam had a hard time getting financing. But he persisted, he says, “because I think it was genuinely a good story to tell. The fact is a lot of the public won’t like it, but I’m actually interested in the part of the public that will.”
Like Don Quixote, Gilliam’s next movie, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, also ran into some bad luck during filming, this time the tragic death of one of its young stars, Heath Ledger. Gilliam thought the movie could not be finished, but after a discussion with Johnny Depp, it was rewritten so that Depp, along with Jude Law and Colin Farrell, would step in and play “versions” of Ledger’s character, Tony. It also starred veteran actor Christopher Plummer as Parnassus (Gilliam had worked with Plummer’s daughter Amanda on The Fisher King) and an actor/musician with strong intermedial ties, Tom Waits, as the Devil. The movie was another beautiful dark fantasy, this time with very strong elements of Gilliam’s early animation showing up in set design. Gilliam discusses the problems as well as the design of the movie in the podcast linked here: http://daily.greencine.com/GC-Terry-Gilliam.mp3
I originally considered Gilliam to be an intermedial artist because he strives to consciously break barriers and experiment with new techniques of storytelling and art. In an interview with Jack Giroux from DVD Talk to discuss “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” Gilliam speaks about his approach to avant-garde filmmaking.
“One wants to keep fighting against whatever the occurring fad is…The problem is that there’s a lot of solid work out there, but I don’t see much that gets my juices flowing that excites me. That’s my problem and I’m kind of a junky looking for a fix when it comes to movies now. It’s not happening and it may be because I’ve seen too many movies over my life, but I don’t think it’s that. I jus tdon’t think a lot of things are coming out that are really fresh and exciting. I think [Parnassus] is far more interesting, far more inventive, and far more original than ninety percent of the stuff that is out there.”
(the full article can be found at http://www.dvdtalk.com/interviews/terry_gilliam_i.html)
Gilliam speaks about his work in general:
If I have a visual style it’s incredibly eclectic. I’ve always been obsessed with viscera, guts of things whether they’re physical or mechanical; showing the inside of things, not just the surface of things. When it comes to ironic, or disturbing, or surreal images, I rush back to Breughel, to Bosch, to Magritte, to Max Ernst.
Goya is a favorite because he’s always been about the horrors of war. There’s terrible anguish in his stuff, but at the same time incredible humanity. I’m not fascinated by just the bizarre for the sake of the bizarre. There has to be a humanistic side, which Breughel, Bosch, Goya all show. They can see the bizarre side. They can see the tragic and horrific side; yet there’s a sense of humor, and joy, and love of human beings.
I think my films never had a narrative problem. People disagree, but then they’re possibly visually illiterate, certainly cinematically illiterate. Yes, I leap around in time and space. Yes, I like to confuse things. But I don’t actually go out of my way to do so. Perhaps because the visuals are so... either complex or disturbing or ironic or bizarre, people get distracted by them and can’t see that, in fact, the story is fairly – fairly – straightforward through the piece.
On the other hand, since I am usually drawn to complex stories, within *that* context, I think I tell the story reasonably clearly.
(Gilliam, in “A Chat With Terry Gilliam” by Henri Behar, http://www.industrycentral.net/director_interviews/TG01.HTM)
I think his description of people having problems with his narrative because they are “visually illiterate” makes it clear that Gilliam has a similar approach to telling a story that many Intermedia artists would, in that instead of simply using straight, linear narrative, he also uses visual cues to suggest narrative through symbolism.
Gilliam’s work in itself is perhaps limited from being truly intermedial work by its presentation as a “film” or an “animation” or even a “screenplay.” He is not, in the sense of someone who exists and exhibits solely as an “artist,” intermedial: He does not have “shows” or do “performances.” But his early influences, his creativity considered within his time and generation (as in, compared and contrasted with his contemporaries), and most of all, his attitude give him strong intermedial aspects. The desire to break away from the norm, to wake people up from complacency in what they see, understand and experience, the fact that this desire is stronger than the desire to be a “popular” director, paired with the way his work comments on culture, society, politics, religion, are all elements of Intermedia.
Evans, Noell Wolfgram. “Packed Full of Goodness: The Animations of Terry Gilliam,” undated, http://www.digitalmediafx.com/Features/terry-gilliam.html.
Sterritt, David. “Laughs and Deep Themes,” Christian Science Monitor, January 7, 1982: 19. Reprinted in Terry Gilliam: Interviews.
Sterritt, David, and Lucille Rhodes, eds. Terry Gilliam: Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2004.
Thompson, Anne. Film Comment, vol. 17, no. 6 (1981), Reprinted in Terry Gilliam: Interviews.
Yule, Andrew. Losing the Light: Terry Gilliam and the Munchausen Saga, Applause Books, 1991.