Book Review: Reconstructing Strangelove – Inside Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Nightmare Comedy’

Book Cover

Publisher: Wallflower Press

Release Date: January 2017

Mick Broderick offers Kubrick scholars a rare glimpse into the creation of what may very well be the director’s most important film: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The text makes use of Kubrick’s own production papers from the Stanley Kubrick Archives in order to dissect the film’s creative evolution as well as its legitimacy in terms of how accurate the film’s depiction of nuclear warfare policies actually were. Several popular myths about the film’s production are proven false even as others are confirmed. Broderick doesn’t try to document the film’s creation and the reader shouldn’t expect a comprehensive examination of the film’s creation. Instead, we are given a scholarly examination of how the film was shaped by the cold war environment, the scientists and world leaders who created that environment, and Kubrick’s creative collaborators. It earns an easy recommendation for fans of the director and for those who admire the film itself.

Review by: Devon Powell

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Book Review: Stanley Kubrick – New Perspectives

Stanley Kubrick - New Perspectives

Publisher: Black Dog Publishing

 Release Date: July 7, 2015

 This collection of essays about the incredible work of Stanley Kubrick will be a revelation to scholars and fans alike. Tatjana Ljujic, Peter Kramer, and Richard Daniels have arranged a truly wonderful collection of informative essays in a single volume that covers the director’s career in (more or less) chronological order. The essays utilize Kubrick’s personal files, which are currently stored at the University of the Arts in London (The Stanley Kubrick Archives). The book showcases quite a few of these files to illustrate these various articles.

These articles are organized in a manner that takes the reader on a journey through Kubrick’s entire career in a truly unique manner. The following is a comprehensive list of included essays:

 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: The Influence of Look Magazine on Stanley Kubrick’s Career as a Filmmaker (Written by: Philippe D. Mather)

 This is probably the most comprehensive study of Kubrick’s career at Look that has ever been published. This is essential reading, and the rare photographs from this period that illustrate the text are very much appreciated. The article makes one wish that an entire book would be written about Kubrick’s time at look magazine. It would truly make a wonderful “coffee table” book. In the meantime, this article does a lot to satisfy this particular craving.

 Complete Total Final Annihilating Artistic Control: Stanley Kubrick and Post-War Hollywood (Written by: Peter Kramer)

This article discusses Kubrick’s need for control over his projects, and in doing this discusses his evolution as a filmmaker. His earliest efforts are discusses in the most detail. His short films are commented on, and there is quite a bit of information about his first few features. The financing of these films is given quite a bit of space within the article, and his relationship with United Artists is touched upon, as is his association with James B. Harris. The article seems to climax as Kubrick achieves a certain amount of notoriety for his financially successful ‘work-for-hire’ feature, Spartacus.

 The most interesting passages are those that discuss Fear and Desire, Killer’s Kiss, The Killing, and Paths of Glory. These films are often only briefly commented upon and any new information is welcome information to fans of the director. Some of the director’s work from the 1960s is also covered briefly here.

 An Alternative New York Jewish Intellectual: Stanley Kubrick’s Cultural Critique (Written by: Nathan Abrams)

 This article discusses how Kubrick’s upbringing as a Jew in New York contributed to hidden social commentary in his films. Lolita and Dr. Strangelove are probably the two most thoroughly examined films in this essay, but other films are briefly mentioned as well. There is plenty of insightful information to be learned from Abrams’ essay.

 Selling the War Film: Syd Stogel and the Paths of Glory Press Files (Written by: Richard Daniels)

 While examining Syd Stogel’s publicity campaign for Paths of Glory, readers are taken behind the scenes of this film. Kubrick’s limited involvement with this campaign is also discussed, as is his association with James B. Harris.

Having His Cake and Eating It Too: Stanley Kubrick and Spartacus (Written by: Fiona Radford)

 “…Spartacus is not a case study for those interested in a typical Kubrick production. The fact that Kubrick brought his typical temerity to this production qnd fought for his own vision, however, means that Kubrick’s largest contribution to this film is its overall lack of coherence…” –Fiona Radford

This quote seems to sum up this particular essay quite nicely, but it is perhaps Kirk Douglas and Dalton Trumbo’s inability to allow Kubrick to actually have a reasonable amount of control over production that caused this unevenness. When one hires a director, it seems like a good idea to allow them to do their job. There is a lot of great information here, but I would have to disagree with Radford’s conclusion about what this information actually proves.

 Re-Writing Nabokov’s Lolita: Kubrick, the Creative Adaptor (Written by: Karyn Stuckey)

 Stuckey discusses Kubrick’s adaptation of Lolita using existing pre-production documents. Fans of the film should be thrilled to read this particular essay.

 A Constructive Form of Censorship: Disciplining Kubrick’s Lolita (Written by: Daniel Biltereyst)

 This examination of censorship’s role in shaping Lolita is a good companion to the previous article. Readers should find the information provided in this text to be of great interest.

 Reconstructing Strangelove: Outtakes from Kubrick’s Cutting Room Floor (Written by: Mick Broderick)

 This particular article might very well be a favorite to many readers. Deleted scenes are examined in detail, and there are many revelations for readers to discover along the way. The article is both scholarly and entertaining.

 2001: A Space Odyssey and “The Dawn of Man” (Written by: Robert Poole)

 Poole’s article focuses on the “Dawn of Man” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. A lot of ground is covered in what is essentially a limited number of pages. Kubrick’s collaboration with Arthur C. Clarke on both the screenplay and the novel is discusses in addition to the various theories about mankind’s evolution that formed the basis of their work on this sequence.

Speculative Systems: Kubrick’s Interaction with the Aerospace Industry during the Production of 2001 (Written by: Regina Peldszus)

 Peldszus cover’s Kubrick’s interaction with certain NASA representatives during the pre-production phases of 2001: A Space Odyssey in a relatively large amount of detail. This article (along with the ‘Dawn of Man’ article) has an entirely different tone and focus than most of the other articles. It is enlightening but somehow less engaging than most of the other articles (of course this is totally subjective).

 What’s it going to be, eh?: Stanley Kubrick’s Adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (Written by: Peter Kramer)

 Kramer begins his article by discussing the infamous Napoléon project that he was never allowed to make, and how he decided to set this project aside for a time in order to make A Clockwork Orange. The themes from Burgess’ novel that may have appealed to Kubrick are also discussed in general terms while comparing them with earlier Kubrick films. This leads to a discussion of various differences between the novel and the film. It makes for very enjoyable reading.

 Painterly Immediacy in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (Written by: Tatjana Ljujic)

 Those that appreciate Barry Lyndon should find this discussion about the influence of both eighteenth and nineteenth century art on Kubrick’s aesthetic fascinating. While eighteenth century paintings and drawings were used as resources for the film’s costume and production design, nineteenth century art was used to guide the director’s mise-en-scène. These issues are elaborated upon in great detail throughout this essay.

 From Thackeray to the Troubles: The Irishness of Barry Lyndon (Written by: Maria Pramaggiore)

 Pramaggiore’s scholarly essay about “Irishness” in Barry Lyndon isn’t quite as accessible as the previous article, but it does include a few interesting revelations.

 Creating The Shining: Looking Beyond the Myths (Written by: Catriona McAvoy)

 This is certainly one of the most accessible articles in the book. The article’s focus is Stanley Kubrick’s working methods throughout the making of The Shining. It argues against the image of Stanley Kubrick as an obsessive megalomaniac and dictator. It is extremely interesting, and certainly a highlight of the book.

 Kubrick’s Lens: Dispatches from the Edge (Written by: Pratap Rughani)

 Rughani’s essay discusses the manner in which the media was shaped by propaganda during the Vietnam war, and how Kubrick commented on this in Full Metal Jacket. It is a rather dry article, but fans of the film should find it engaging.

 “UK frost can kill palms”: Layers of Reality in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (Written by: Karen A. Ritzenhoff)

 Many readers will no doubt prefer this essay that focuses on similar issues concerning Full Metal Jacket, but delves into the film’s production quite a bit more than the previous article.

 Archived Desires: Eyes Wide Shut (Written by: Lucy Scholes and Richard Martin)

 The book ends on a high note with this wonderful article that discusses many aspects of Eyes Wide Shut. Especially interesting is a discussion about Kubrick’s working relationship with Frederick Raphael in adapting Arthur Schnitzler’s Dream Story (Traumnovelle) to the screen, and how the film’s publicity campaign had a negative impact on the critical and audience reception of the film.

 Due to the fact that various writers are responsible for each of these individual essays, information is sometimes contradictory. An example would be that one article claims that Paths of Glory was never banned in France. Instead, it was simply never released in that country. This is contradicted by a later article that suggests that the film was banned in France to illustrate the controversy that surrounded most of Kubrick’s films. This isn’t really a problem because one takes it for granted that the topics discussed were handled by various individuals with extremely focused goals. However, one must keep this in mind while digesting the great deal of information that is contained in these pages.

 Stanley Kubrick – New Perspectives is a gift to cinemaphiles and scholars alike. It earns an easy recommendation.

Review by: Devon Powell