Making … Love the Bomb: Happy 50th, Dr. Strangelove

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Yesterday was the 50th birthday of one of the strangest characters and films ever to hit the silver screen, Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).

Some interesting tidbits about Dr. Strangelove I liked in its entry on Wikipedia:

  • The photographer Weegee, who consulted with Kubrick on special photographic effects, inspired the accent of Strangelove (as portrayed by Peter Sellers, along with 2-3 other characters, depending on how you count). While a lot of us may think he’s based on Henry Kissinger, he was a combination of “RAND Corporation strategist Herman Kahn, mathematician and Manhattan Project principal John von Neumann, rocket scientist Wernher von Braun (a central figure in Nazi Germany’s rocket development program recruited to the US after the war), and Edward Teller, the “father of the hydrogen bomb.”
  • George C. Scott vowed not to work with Kubrick again, after ol’ mischievous Stanley used goofy takes he promised were only warm-ups. But the actor’s respect for the director survived because Kubrick was a formidable chess opponent, repeatedly winning the games he and Scott played on set.
  • Ken Adam, the production designer of several Bond films, designed the set. With great patience! Kubrick was famously hard-to-please. I have to quote this part outright:
  • For the War Room, Ken Adam first designed a two-level set which Kubrick initially liked, only to decide later that it was not what he wanted. Adam next began work on the design that was used in the film, an expressionist set that was compared with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It was an enormous concrete room (130 feet (40 m) long and 100 feet (30 m) wide, with a 35-foot (11 m)-high ceiling[26]) suggesting a bomb shelter, with a triangular shape (based on Kubrick’s idea that this particular shape would prove the most resistant against an explosion). One side of the room was covered with gigantic strategic maps reflecting in a shiny black floor inspired by the dance scenes in old Fred Astaire films. In the middle of the room there was a large circular table lit from above by a circle of lamps, suggesting a poker table. Kubrick insisted that the table be covered with green baize (although this could not be seen in the black and white film) to reinforce the actors’ impression that they are playing ‘a game of poker for the fate of the world.’ Kubrick asked Adam to build the set ceiling in concrete to force the director of photography to use only the on-set lights from the circle of lamps. Moreover, each lamp in the circle of lights was carefully placed and tested until Kubrick was happy with the result.

  • What?! The DoD didn’t want to help with the film?

Lacking cooperation from the Pentagon in the making of the film, the set designers reconstructed the aircraft cockpit to the best of their ability by comparing the cockpit of a B-29 Superfortress and a single photograph of the cockpit of a B-52, and relating this to the geometry of the B-52’s fuselage. The B-52 was state-of-the-art in the 1960s, and its cockpit was off-limits to the film crew. When some United States Air Force personnel were invited to view the reconstructed B-52 cockpit, they said that “it was absolutely correct, even to the little black box which was the CRM.” It was so accurate that Kubrick was concerned whether Ken Adam’s production design team had done all of their research legally, fearing a possible investigation by the FBI.

From the IMDb trivia page, I also learned that the War Room set’s giant screen was lit by over 10 miles of electrical cable, and the tremendous heat generated by the individual floodlights behind the map’s illuminated symbols damaged the display. They had to install air-conditioning!

At right, you can see (courtesy of The Playlist), a page of alternate titles in Kubricks sketchbooks, including Dr. Doomsday Meets Ingrid Strangelove or How to Start World War III Without Really Trying or Dr. Strangelove’s Secret Uses of Uranus.

Kubrick fans may mourn the fact that the two sequels, Turgidson’s Mother, or Into the Shaft! and Muffley Strikes Back never made it past notes and index cards. But don’t be sad, there’s a 45-minute video to give you more strange love to love. But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day…

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Michelle, or Binka, makes . While at Maker Media, she oversaw publications, outreach, and programming for kids, families, and schools. Before joining Maker Media in 2007, she worked at the Exploratorium, in Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, and as a curriculum designer for various publishers and educational researchers. When she’s not supporting future makers, including her two young sons, Binka does some making of her own, most often as a visual artist.

View more articles by Michelle "Binka" Hlubinka


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