Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Posted: January 25, 2012 in 1964, American, Comedy

Based on the Peter George novel Red Alert, Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy satirizes the theme of a nuclear scare, in particular that of mutual assured destruction, in which each side is supposed to be deterred from a nuclear war by the prospect of a global cataclysm regardless of who actually won.

When Kubrick was writing the first draft of the script he did so with the intention of making it as a serious drama however changed to a comedy when he realised that ‘one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in question‘.

Starring Peter Sellers, Slim Pickens, and George C. Scott the story concerns a deranged US Air Force General who, unknown to his superiors, orders a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Russia.  It then follows the President of the United States, Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers), his advisors, and an RAF Captain, Lionel Mandrake (Sellers again), as they try to recall the bombers and avert nuclear disaster.  The film separately follows the crew,  including James Earl Jones in his first film role, of one of the bombers piloted by Major T.J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) as they attempt to deliver their payload.

Columbia agreed to finance the film on provision that Sellers would play at least 4 major roles, Kubrick accepted the demand but Sellers only ended up playing three of the four roles originally written for him.  He was originally scripted to play the role of Kong, despite being reluctant to do so due to the workload and feeling that he wouldn’t be able to do the role justice, and the role eventually went to Picken’s after Sellers sprained his ankle and was unable to work in the cramped cockpit set.  In the final version of the film Sellers played the roles of RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, US President Merkin Muffley, and the titular character Dr. Strangelove, who doesn’t actually appear in the book, an ex-nazi mad scientist who’s portrayal is an homage to the character of Rotwang from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis.  General Buck Turgidson (played by George C. Scott) was an over-the-top parody of gung-ho americanism, Scott wasn’t comfortable playing Turgidson this way so Kubrick got him to play the character this way for warm up shots before doing ‘real’ takes, ultimately Kubrick used these shots which led to Scott refusing to ever work with him again.

The film was shot entirely on set at Shepperton Studios in London as Sellers was unable to travel abroad at the time as he was in the middle of divorce proceedings.  There were 3 main sets, General Rippers office, the interior of the B52 Bomber, and finally the War Room which was a massive set some 40 meters long by 30 meters wide with a 35 meter high ceiling, walls covered with strategic maps, and glossy black floors – a design that was later recreated for the video for Muses single Time is Running Out in 2007.

Kubrick managed to insert elements of satire throughout the film from character names, President Merkin Muffley being a prime example (a Merkin is a pubic hair wig, the president is bald and his last name is Muffley which are both homages to a Merkin) to visual images, the soldiers fighting to take control of Burpleson Air Force Base against the backdrop of a billboard reading ‘Peace is our Profession’.

Goodbye Lenin! (2003)

Posted: January 11, 2012 in 2003, Comedy, Drama, German

Billed as a comedy/drama I didn’t really find much to laugh about in this German film.  Whether this was down to the drama overshadowing any comedy or simply because the comedy referenced German events that I didn’t get I’m not sure.

The film is set in East Germany in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and centers around single mother Christiane (Katrin Sass) and her two children Alex (Daniel Brühl) and Ariane (Maria Simon).  Raising the two children alone after her husband defects to West Germany Christiane is passionate Socialist who, after witnessing Alex being arrested for participating in a protest march, suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma for 8 months.  During this period East Germany undergoes radical changes with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the influx of western culture into the previously insular country.  After Christiane awakes from her coma the doctors inform Alex that any sort of shock may lead to another heart attack and, feeling that these changes may be detrimental to his mothers health, Alex resolves to keep this from her.

Alex moves his mother back home and, with the help of his family, neighbours, and friends, they pretend that nothing has changed within the 4 walls of their flat whilst outside East Germany begins to welcome western ideals and businesses – Ariane gets a job working at Burger King and becomes involved with a West German whilst Alex gets a job installing satellite tv.  At home the family dress in typically East German clothing and, with the help of his friend Denis, Alex puts together false news stories and television shows in order to keep the illusion alive whilst hunting for East German goods that are proving increasingly difficult to find.

Ultimately the story is one of a boy who loves his mother and will do anything to protect her and is loosely based on the last few years of Lenin’s life where it was deemed that over-excitement might cause him health problems so he was kept in a controlled environment whilst Stalin had special newspapers printed for him editing any news about the political struggles of the time.  The film touches on the unification of Germany without going in to much detail of the experiences of the East German people which is a shame as some of the films most poignant scenes involve this especially when Alex goes grocery shopping only to discover that the shelves are bare, later to be replaced by western versions of the same foods forcing Alex to decant the contents into East German packaging in order to maintain the charade.  The film itself is beautifully shot, written, and acted and ultimately deserving of the many awards it won.