AUGUST 31, 1998:
A Clockwork OrangeD: Stanley Kubrick (1971)
w/ Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Michael Bates,
LolitaD: Stanley Kubrick (1962)
w/ James Mason, Sue Lyon, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers, Marianne Stone, Diana Decker
Since 1987's Full Metal Jacket, we've heard virtually nothing from Stanley Kubrick. The comparisons between Adrian Lyne's new Lolita and Kubrick's 1962 adaptation of the novel and a rumored release date for Kubrick's newest psychosexual thriller, Eyes Wide Shut (early 1999) has the director back in the news, however. Kubrick is best known for movies of psychological terror (The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey) and for war pictures that illustrate the tragedy and horror of battle (Full Metal Jacket, Paths of Glory). All of these films (go ahead, throw in Spartacus for good measure) are considered to be among the absolute best in their genres. His comedies (Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Lolita) take a look at his lighter subjects: nuclear devastation, gang rape, and pedophilia.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is one of the funniest and most poignant political satires ever made. General Jack D. Ripper (Hayden) launches a bomber wing to drop nuclear weapons on the U.S.S.R. because he can no longer tolerate the Communist plot to "sap and impurify all our precious bodily fluids." When President Merkin Muffley (Sellers) finds out, he calls the Russian Premier ("He went and did a funny thing, Dmitri...") and learns that the U.S.S.R. has a Doomsday Device, one that will destroy all life on Earth should they ever be struck by a nuclear attack. The action cuts between the U.S. War Room, Gen. Ripper's headquarters, and a bomber piloted by Major T. J. "King" Kong (Pickens), who is determined to drop his payload. While 2001 deals largely with machines controlling mankind, Dr. Strangelove looks at the equally frightening idea of men being in control of machines. For a Sixties cold war comedy, the film remains remarkably undated in its humor, and many scenes are cinematic classics, like the famous closing shot of Slim Pickens shouting "Yee-haw!" and waving his cowboy hat as he rides a nuclear bomb to the earth. And while there are several fine performances, Peter Sellers dominates the film in three different parts with true comic genius.
As far as Kubrick's pantheon goes, Lolita, another adaptation of a disturbingly
comic novel, is considered only a minor deity. The marketing phrase in 1962 for the
film was, "How did they ever make a film like Lolita?" And when
you consider the content of Vladimir Nabokov's novel of the same name, it's a genuine
question. While Kubrick's film leaves out the racier parts of the novel, he does
a good job of capturing the humor and conveying with subtlety a forbidden sexuality.
The story concerns Humbert Humbert, a European academic (Mason) who comes to America
and falls passionately in love with the 14-year-old girl at his rooming house. In
order to stay close to her, he marries the girl's fawning bourgeois mother (Winters)
hoping her kidneys will go out sooner than later. Fortunately for Humbert, when his
new wife discovers his secret passion, the heartbroken woman runs into the street
and is ploughed down by a car swerving to miss a poodle. Just when Humbert thinks
the stepdaughter is all his, the mysterious Quilty (Sellers) begins to move in. Most
of the humor in the movie is character-driven, Mason playing his part appropriately
ó stiff as a board, against the girlish buoyancy of the nubile Lolita, the overbearing
screeching of Charlotte and the detached mincing of Quilty, another of Sellers' most
brilliant, scene-stealing roles. Much like Dr. Strangelove and A Clockwork
Orange, Lolita uses humor to keep you entertained and watching, to keep
you thinking and laughing while considering in yourself the darkest urges of humanity.
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