Art should never be comfort food. It should always challenge, undermine, rebel, and otherwise find apple carts to upset. And while humour can be a reassuring reinforcement of your thought patterns, I’ve always been drawn to a rather black variation of the form.
Doctor Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, to give it its stupidly full title, is a deliciously uncomfortable viewing experience. It is absurdism writ large and painful, cut so close to the cultural bone that future archaeologists will take it as proof of cannibalism. It is, in many ways, Stanley Kubrick’s misanthropic masterpiece, and the perfect exploration of his working habits– every scene, every moment, cut and recut until they are pared down to their very minimum; no fat, no blether; simply distilled, pure, predatory, poison. It’s all tied together, of course, by the pitch-perfect performances of George C Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, and the never-better Peter Sellers.
I never quite cut it as a stand-up comedian. I couldn’t bring myself to pitch my material at the heart of the beer-and-knob-gags crowd that populated Perth’s evenings, and late in my career I developed a case of the performance yips that sunk me completely. And movies like this were partly to blame– perhaps, had I been less in love with Kubrick’s acidic perfectionism, and more a fan of, well, Porky’s…… but as an artist of a different stripe, the beautiful turns of phrase, the sublime juxtapositioning of elements, the obsessionally fierce holding to point of view and narrative voice, all have been part of my artistic education. And, just as importantly, this movie remains a sublime and simply magnificent slice of perfection, more than 50 years after the possibilities with which it concerns itself have reached their first-run nadir.
It’s still the War Room, and you still can’t fight here.