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Archive for the 'Wallflower' Category

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

Reconstructing Strangelove

Reconstructing Strangelove

The following is an interview with Mick Broderick, author of Reconstructing Strangelove: Inside Stanley Kubrick’s “Nightmare Comedy”:

What attracted you to this project and how did it evolve over time?

I grew up in Australia during the 1960s, so I was a cold war kid. The year I was born (in Melbourne), Stanley Kramer brought Gregory Peck, Ava Gardiner, Fred Astair, Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson to town to film On the Beach. It was a big deal for the Australian postwar generation as it seemed to put Melbourne on the map. At that time Australia was awash with the cultural – and increasingly the political – influence of America, from Hollywood movies and rock and roll to controversially partnering with the USA in the war in Vietnam. As a child I was fascinated by the science fiction and espionage shows that Australian television ran. I saw endless re-runs of programs such as The Outer Limits, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission Impossible. I was also part of the ‘sick’ generation, growing up with Mad magazine and the deliberate campiness of the Batman series. At some point I realized that many of these TV programs involved plots about nuclear weapons and related atomic technologies. Sometime in the 1970s while in my early teens I saw Dr. Strangelove on commercial television and remember being simultaneously enthralled by the suspense, and simultaneously amused by the comic antics and sexual jokes that my pubescent mind strove to make sense of. Later, repeated viewings of Kubrick’s film on TV during the era of Watergate, rapprochement with China and the Soviets, and the withdrawal from Vietnam confirmed for me the outrageous hilarity of Strangelove’s script and its ongoing relevance.

The idea for a comprehensive, historical book on Dr. Strangelove stemmed from merging my twin interests in nuclear history and screen studies. In 1982 I had written a large undergraduate thesis on auteurism and Stanley Kubrick’s oeuvre. I followed this up with a postgraduate thesis that analyzed what I called “nuclear movies” as a genre, including a chapter on Dr. Strangelove. In 1988 I published the first detailed reference work on atomic themes in cinema, Nuclear Movies, and updated this in 1991, cataloguing nearly a thousand feature-length dramas from around the world. I dedicated the book to Kubrick, “who taught me to start worrying”. Of all the nuclear movies I watched Strangelove seemed unsurpassed in capturing the essence of the nuclear mindset, not only throughout the cold war but a mindset still with us today.

What was your biggest surprise in writing the book?

I was staggered to learn that Kubrick had made concrete plans to relocate to Australia with his family in order to avoid what he anticipated would be a thermonuclear war between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. in the early 1960s. This was no flight of fancy. While deeply immersed in the vexed problem of the “thermonuclear dilemma,” Kubrick saw the rising tensions in Berlin and what led to the Cuban Missile Crisis as the most dangerous period in humankind, and he was right! Throughout 1961-62 Kubrick liaised with Australian embassy officials, banks and tax advisors on his imminent move ‘downunder.’ He sought out information concerning possible projects, including the story of Ned Kelly, a notorious 19th Century bush-ranger. Kubrick calculated that Perth (the capital of Western Australia, where I currently live), would be the least likely location affected by fallout or prone to a Soviet attack. He established bank accounts and transferred funds. He obtained visas for himself, his wife and three daughters and was all set to go. Famous for not flying, Stanley had bought tickets on a cruise ship, but when he found out that he would have to share a bathroom, the trip was off! Apparently the idea of spending months at sea sharing toilet space with complete strangers was intolerable; he would much rather face thermonuclear war. But as his wife Christine recalled with some amusement, by that point the tension in Berlin has subsided.

I’ve pondered as a counterfactual history, in some parallel quantum universe, that Kubrick made it to Australia in late-1962 and set about producing a Strangelove-esque satire, but as he entered pre-production, the northern hemisphere was tragically and ironically engulfed in a thermonuclear war sparked by mistakes made in Berlin or Cuba. Had Kubrick completed such a film from the relative safety of Australia, his primary audience would no longer exist to see it.

The book draws from a considerable range of primary materials. How did you get access to these?

A year or two after Stanley Kubrick’s death in 1999, I contacted his eldest daughter, Katharina, through a newsgroup dedicated to Kubrick’s work. Katharina had engaged with this list to publicly dispel various rumors and factual errors about her father that had long circulated in the media. Katharina kindly arranged for me to pitch my manuscript proposal to her mother, Christiane, who accepted the idea and after the estate had managed to begin cataloguing the voluminous boxes of the filmmaker’s files and documents, I spent a fortnight researching at the family home north of London in April 2005. Around the same time I undertook research in the USA where I interviewed Kubrick’s early career producer-partner, James B. Harris, and his long-time attorney, Louis C. Blau. I also met and interviewed screenplay co-author Terry Southern’s wife Carol and son Nile. This led to further interviews with Strangelove film editor Anthony Harvey and titles and “pie fight” cut-up advertising artist Pablo Ferro. While in the U.K. I interviewed David George, the son of co-screenplay author Peter George (aka Peter Bryant), who had written the source novel for the movie (Red Alert aka Two Hours to Doom). Both David George and Nile Southern generously provided assistance in accessing their respective father’s archives.

Tell us something about your book’s historical veracity?

One of the benefits of Reconstructing Strangelove’s long gestational development was that as the years passed more and more historical material came to light from multiple, and sometimes unexpected, sources. From the late-1990s I had been following the post-cold war document declassifications being released online by the wonderful National Security Archive in Washington DC. When I learned in 2001 that President Dwight Eisenhower had issued a Top Secret pre-delegation authority to lower echelon commanders permitting them to “expend” nuclear weapons, it became crystal clear to me that George and Kubrick had legitimately premised their story upon an entirely plausible scenario – one where a paranoid U.S. Air Force general could unilaterally order his wing of B-52s to bomb Russia with thermonuclear weapons.

Another fundamental element of the Strangelove plot involved the concept of a special code used to safeguard nuclear weapons and that a dedicated radio communications device aboard the B-52 would interact with the arming mechanism. At the time of the film’s development through to theatrical release this officially unacknowledged mechanism was highly sensitive information and classified. The U.S. Air Force persuaded Columbia Pictures, the film’s backer and distributor, to add a silent rolling title at the beginning of the film boldly stating that the Air Force safeguards would prevent the events depicted in the film from ever occurring. We know now, from repeated declassifications of important departmental and agency records, and from oral histories, that this claim was patently false.

As part of his extensive research Kubrick had amassed a substantial library of works on nuclear and military strategy. He had met with key theorists in the field, including Thomas Schelling, Alastair Buchan and former RAND Corporation analyst Herman Kahn. Alongside Peter George’s practical military experience and service contacts in NATO, Kubrick had the ear of numerous experts but he had himself become highly proficient in comprehending and communicating the paradoxical, if not absurd, complexities of nuclear brinkmanship. A good deal of the genius of Dr. Strangelove, and its continued relevance today, stems from the film’s attention to detail, not only in historical accuracy and production design, but in the perverse and pervasive discourse of nuclear strategy.

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Trump’s Strange Loves

Reconstructing Strangelove

This post is part of an ongoing series in which Columbia University Press authors look at the implications of the result of the 2016 presidential election. In this post, Mick Broderick, author of Reconstructing Strangelove: Inside Stanley Kubrick’s “Nightmare Comedy”, discusses how Dr. Strangelove is and has been used in US politics:

Trump’s Strange Loves
By Mick Broderick

There has been much consternation recently concerning President Trump’s access to the American nuclear arsenal, the missile control codes (carried in the briefcase-sized “football”) and his personal authorization card (the “biscuit”). As newly anointed Commander-in-Chief, Donald Trump now wields near-apocalyptic power, literally at his fingertips. Throughout his appointed four-year term he can at any time – to invoke Robert Oppenheimer and the Bhagavad Gita – “become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Only a few minutes from committing to such action nearly a thousand nuclear weapons stationed on high alert could be unleashed and no one is legally empowered to stop him.

In reality, this is business as usual; same as it ever was. Trump’s supreme authority is constitutionally entrenched, with the continuity of executive power stemming back decades. What has changed, however, is the new President’s predilection for impulsively tweeting on foreign policy matters, amongst other things, into the wee hours. Now in office Trump continues to fire-off intemperate remarks at his whim and those missives are instantly accessible across the globe. When Ronald Reagan quipped before a radio broadcast during a microphone test in 1984 that he had just “signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever … we begin bombing in 5 minutes”, it was quite sometime before the audio was leaked to the public. Imagine the effect of a tweet from President Trump along similar lines, without the (comic) inflection of the spoken word or the corresponding audible guffaws from nearby presidential staff. Although largely symbolic given the Republican control of the Executive and both Congressional houses, moves are now underway by Democrats to curb any Presidential nuclear first strike order, by mandating that Congress must first declare war. Earlier, Trump had ranted at the Republican Congressional leadership to “Go nuclear!” against his Democrat rivals. (more…)

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

The Man in the Middle

Projecting Race

“Sponsored cinema – produced by governmental agencies, NGOs, and industry groups – is otherwise framed as the disposable other of film studies, lacking the aura of more conventional and artistically rendered films. And yet such works, thanks to their immediacy and ephemeral nature, help us recuperate lost or repressed historical experiences and thwart ingrained narratives about the uniqueness of present day dilemmas.” — Stephen Charbonneau

The following is a guest post from Stephen Charbonneau, author of Projecting Race: Postwar America, Civil Rights, and Documentary Film:

The Man in the Middle
By Stephen Charbonneau

Stan Hamilton (left) in The Man in the Middle (d. George Stoney, 1966)

It’s an unexpected moment in a police training film from the sixties. The film image features an African American youth organizer named Stan Hamilton from South Jamaica, Queens pleading with school officials to treat young people with respect, to “listen to them…and let them tell you…what may be the underlying causes” for the social unrest in their community. Additional footage unfolds featuring Hamilton with the 103rd Precinct’s Youth Outreach and Community Officer, James Wren, as the film’s narrator urgently calls for collaboration between police and “street level leaders.”

The scene comes from The Man in the Middle (1966), one of a handful of training films produced by George Stoney for various police departments in the sixties. While most police training films function as mere inscriptions of proper police behavior, Stoney’s film embraces contemporary documentary techniques to pressure the police audience for this film to see local activists as collaborators rather than adversaries. In the film South Jamaica is positioned as a community that reflects a national crisis. By 1966, American cities are torn asunder by entrenched inequalities around race and class. Many communities of color were bereft of redress as the realities of structural racism continued to hold strong even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This historical background fuels the film’s urgency to imagine a new paradigm of community policing, one that is collaborative and sees young African Americans as partners in resolving conflict.

The cinematography of the film is energetically spontaneous and improvisational, catching interactions as they occur. This approach compels the film to specify the historical actors documented: who they are, where they work, and the specific circumstances at hand. But it also – at times – modulates the representation of reality by moving it away from the ideal and towards the ambiguity of the real. Stoney’s film – particularly once it focuses on the 103rd Precinct – allows key moments of observation and participation to silence the narrator. Perhaps the most important scene in the film features Hamilton’s direct address to the camera. Seated in his office, surrounded by several young African Americans, Hamilton compels the film’s audience to see Jamaica through their eyes. As he speaks, he directs our attention to a series of photographs published in Life magazine.

Now when you speak of a police department here in Jamaica, you must look at it as young folks would…For example, here you have scenes in a magazine and just about every daily paper of police attitude and action done unto black folk throughout or somewhere in the United States. Now we’re not going to identify where in the United States, why in the United States, because this is no different – you understand? – to the viewer who sees this in South Jamaica. He isn’t going to worry whether it’s in Selma, Alabama or wherever. All he sees is [pointing at photos of riot police] there is a policeman, there is a dog, and there is abuse.

“There is a policeman, there is a dog, and there is abuse.” From The Man in the Middle

Hamilton’s use of the photograph compels the audience to see a reality they might not otherwise see, through the eyes of a young African American in South Jamaica. If showing us the photograph weren’t enough in and of itself, Hamilton specifically guides our look by pointing (‘there is a policeman, there is a dog, and there is abuse’). In doing so, the national scale of police violence and its inescapable racial inflections is both acknowledged and implicated at the local level of South Jamaica. For minority youth in Queens the events of Bloody Sunday in Selma are not bound by a particular geography. Rather, the ‘actions and attitudes’ exhibited by police in Selma traverse the country and constitute a national problem that links South Jamaica to other American cities. Lastly, the photographic spread draws our attention to mediation and the stakes of recording history as it happens. The imagery here retain their authenticity and document a crisis in process, one unfolding and overtaking the country at the moment of filming.

Nontheatrical films from the past – training films, community development films, educational films – have traditionally been overlooked (or mocked) for their presumed lack of artistry and utilitarian streak. Feature length documentaries and narrative films are the forms that are typically positioned as discrete works that endure. Sponsored cinema – produced by governmental agencies, NGOs, and industry groups – is otherwise framed as the disposable other of film studies, lacking the aura of more conventional and artistically rendered films. And yet such works, thanks to their immediacy and ephemeral nature, help us recuperate lost or repressed historical experiences and thwart ingrained narratives about the uniqueness of present day dilemmas.

The immediate visual evidence that has accompanied police abuse in recent years is echoed by an array of archival materials, like The Man in the Middle, that record and speak to a broader history of police misconduct towards persons of color. The experience of past police abuse in South Jamaica and the struggles highlighted in Stoney’s film were brought to the fore more recently in the mainstream media. A year and a half ago Eric L. Adams – Brooklyn Borough President and former police captain – authored a powerful op-ed for the New York Times, entitled “We Must Stop Police Abuse of Black Men” (12/4/14). While the piece closes with practical recommendations for curbing acts of police brutality towards African Americans, the opening is an unforgettable confessional about what it felt like to endure physical violence at the hands of police in South Jamaica, Queens as a fifteen-year-old: “I can recall it as if it were yesterday: looking into the toilet and seeing blood instead of urine. That was the aftermath of my first police encounter.” Adams was later determined to “make change from the inside by joining the police department,” although he encountered numerous cultural and institutional obstacles throughout his career. This testimony from the past echoes Hamilton’s pleas and contextualizes more recent acts of police abuse and violence as hallmarks of a long legacy of police abuse and distrust in communities of color.

Monday, October 6th, 2014

The Cinema of Alexander Sokurov

In the following video, Jeremi Szaniawski talks with Dominique Nasta (ULB) about his book The Cinema of Alexander Sokurov: Figures of Paradox:

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Quadrophenia: Album, Movie, and Now, Book!

Quadrophenia, Stephen GlynnThe newest entry in the Cultographies series is Quadrophenia by Stephen Glynn. The 1979 film is, of course, based on the Who’s concept album Quadrophenia (1973) and tells the story of young mod Jimmy Cooper and the 1964 clash between Mods and Rockers in Brighton.

In Quadrophenia, Glynn argues that the “Modyssey” depicted in the book opens the hermetic subculture of the Mods to its social-realist context and dares to explore cult dangers. To help in understanding the particularities of Mod culture, Glynn’s book offers a very helpful glossary of essential Mod terms. Here are some selections and we’ve also included the trailer for the film:

Aggro: aggression: a common manifestation of the Mod mood.

Blues: small blue amphetamine pills aka French Blues.

Bovril: a hot and salty meat extract drink.

parka: the Mod coat of choice—notably the M51 fish-tail parka (named after its initial US army distribution), longer at the back with an integral hood.

Pie and Mash: a traditional London working-class meal, normally a minced beef pie served with mashed potato and an eel liquor sauce, aka “liquor”

Toff: a derogatory slang term for a member of the upper classes.

Vespa: Italian-made two stroke engine motor scooter. The Ace Face’s scooter of choice.

Here’s the trailer:

Thursday, April 16th, 2009


Over the past few weeks we’ve highlighted some of the titles from the Cultographies series, including Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story and Bad Taste.

For more on the series and cult films in general, there is a great Cultographies Web site. One of the best features is the the series editors’ list of the Top 25 Cult Films as well as the more extensive Cultographies’ 111 Best Cult Films Ever.

We won’t list all 111 films but follow the jump to get a partial list of the movies (arranged alphabetically). (more…)

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

Earlier this week at South by Southwest, there was a surprise screening of Todd Haynes’s legendary and brilliant film Superstar. The film has become notorious for its use of dolls to narrate the tragic life of the singer Karen Carpenter, and for its legal problems— the film was withdrawn from circulation following a legal battle with Karen’s brother Richard Carpenter.

However the film can be shown for academic purposes and has made it to youtube and google video (see below). Perfectly coinciding with the film’s showing at SXSW is Glyn Davis’s new study of the film, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which is part of the Cultographies series.

Davis details the film’s fascinating history: its production and initial reception, its journey through the courts, and its bootleg circulation among fans. It also explores Superstar’s rich, provocative, and moving content, paying close attention to the film’s aesthetics, generic form, and cultural position as a hybrid text.

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

New Titles from Wallflower Press

Columbia University Press is the proud U.S. distributor of Wallflower Press, one of the best publishers in film and film studies. Here are some recent arrivals from Wallflower that highlight the diverse and always-compelling nature of their list.

Is there more to recent, Blair-era cinema than Billy Elliot and Hugh Grant? In in Contemporary British Cinema, James Leggot presents a wide-ranging discussion that highlights the variety of recent British film, which includes Hugh and Billy but also much, much more. In a world saturated with entertainment “news,” Widescreen: Watching. Real. People. Elsewhere., by Mark Cousins offers a refreshingly incisive look at contemporary cinema. Known for his work in Prospect, award-winning journalist and critic Mark Cousins presents a skeptical, passionate, eyewitness account of film today, argued originally and written with panache.

The intersection of film and philosophy is increasingly on the minds of both filmmakers and film scholars. In the aptly titled Film and Philosophy: Taking Movies Seriously, Daniel Shaw considers the ideas of philosophers such as Stanley Cavell and the ways in which both classic and recent films have grappled with philosophical issues.

Finally, for those who are interested in documentary film, there is the excellent Documentary Display: Re-Viewing Nonfiction Film and Video by Keith Beattie. The cover from the book includes an image from a film by the great Jean Painlevé, whose hypnotic nature documentaries are not to be missed. Here’s a clip from one of his films, Le Vampire:

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Film and Philly: The Society for Cinema & Media Studies Conference

Columbia University Press Film StudiesFor some people six things come to mind when they think about Philadelphia and film: Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V, and the mose recent Rocky Balboa. However, beginning on Thursday, The Society for Cinema & Media Studies holds its annual meeting in Philadelphia.

Looking through the SCMS program, one finds a dizzying array of fascinating panels and papers, with topics ranging from American silent film and “The Wire” to Mumblecore and the crisis of male identity in virtual pornography. While it would be impossible to list all the fascinating and provocative panels on film, television, and digital media, we’ve highlighted some papers CUP and Wallflower authors will be delivering (names of panels in parentheses). We hope this provides a glimpse into the depth and diversity of the conference and if you are at the conference please stop by our tables. And and stay tuned for an announcement later this week about a special sale on film titles!:

  • Peter Decherney: “Legally Unique: Chaplin, Copyright, and the Beginning of the End of Participatory Culture” (Copyright Frontiers: Imitation, Remixing, and Censorship)
  • Wheeler Winston Dixon: “Not Whether but When: Post 9/11 Nuclear Terrorism” (American Film in the Age of Terrorism)
  • Alison Griffiths: “Film and the Museum Sponsored Expedition: Developments at the AMNH in the 1920s” (Intimate and Instructive Views: Museum Sponsored Expedition Films of the Twenties)
  • Henry Jenkins: “The Public Sphere in a ‘Hybrid Media Ecology: YouTube, Network Television, and Presidential Politics.” (Television as a Cultural Center: The Future of the Public Sphere)
  • Jonathan Kahana: (Designing Community: The Architecture of Activism)
  • Geoff King: “Speciality Architecture in Focus: The Design of Indiewood Cinema Release Slate” (American Independents)
  • Alison Landsberg: “Gender Trouble on the Frontier: Interracial Love and the Limits on National Belonging in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Square Man” (Race and Gender in American Film)
  • Adam Lowenstein: “Haunted Houses: in the Global Village: Recent Japanese Horror Films and Globalization” (The Contemporary Horror Film)
  • James Morrison: “Camp, Horror, and Aging: The Case of Shelley Winters” (Aging American Actors)
  • Susan Ohmer: “Foote, Cone, and Belding: Hollywood and the Ad Agency” (Advertising and Cinema: 4 Case Studies)
  • Murray Pomerance: “Hitchcock the ‘Moralist’: Proprieties of Appearance in The Lodger and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)” (Hitchcock and Morality)
  • Mark Shiel: “On the Threshold of Revolution and Postmodern Decline: Representations of Los Angeles Circa 1968 (Architectures of Revolt: The Cinematic City Circa 1968)
  • Ed Sikov: “Don’t Let’s Ask for the Moon–We Have a Star: Bette Davis as Gay Icon (Bette Davis: Actor and Star)
  • Carol Vernallis: “Soundtracks for the New Cut-up Cinema: Music, Speed, and Memory (More Notes on Soundtracks)
  • Friday, February 22nd, 2008

    Oscar Reading to Win That Pool

    Whether you are watching the Academy Award nominated movies for fun, for money, or for professional reasons, it’s always good to do a little research on the categories that films are nominated in. To that end, we present our highly biased list of books on film to read before filling out your pool ballot Sunday night. The Oscar ceremony starts at 8:00 pm Eastern. Get some popcorn ready, you’ve got some reading to do.

    Every year I lose the Oscar pool to a friend who commands the lesser known categories like sound editing, visual effects, and cinematography. To give myself the edge this year I’m consulting several Wallflower Press books, Film Editing: The Art of the Expressive by Valerie Orpen, Special Effects: Still in Search of Wonder by Michele Pierson, and Film Sound: Theory and Practice edited by Elisabeth Weis and John Belton. That way I’ll know what to look for when watching the Oscar nominated movies and place my wagers accordingly.

    For the more popular categories, I’m going for a more historical approach and researching past winners to hedge my bets. Again, Wallflower brings the “A” game to my team with their Short Cuts series on topics like Documentary: The Margins of Reality by Paul Ward, Animation: Genre and Authorship, by Paul Wells, Crime Films: Investigating the Scene by Kirsten Moana Thompson, and The Western Genre: From Lordsburg to Big Whiskey by John Saunders.

    Now that I’ve finished researching my ballot, I’m going to read a bit for fun. While he’s not up for best director, the Wallflower series Directors’ Cuts includes the fascinating The Cinema of Todd Haynes: All That Heaven Allows by James Morrison. Haynes’s new movie, I’m Not There has Cate Blanchett nominated for best supporting actress. And lastly, since so many of this year’s film are based on historical events, I’m going to consult The Columbia Companion to American History on Film: How the Movies Have Portrayed the American Past, edited by Peter C. Rollins which was winner of the 2005 Popular Culture Association’s Ray and Pat Browne Award for a reference work and finalist for Theater Library Association Award, 2005.

    Finally, here’s a list of all the film titles from Columbia University Press, Wallflower, Edinburgh University Press, and Auteur. Well hopefully all that award winning will rub off on me and bring me some big money Sunday night. Good luck with your ballot selections!

    Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

    The Cinema of Todd Haynes

    Brilliant and grounbreaking to some, inscrutable and frustrating to others, I’m Not There, Todd Haynes’s newest film a bio-pic of Bob Dylan has garnered its fair share of opinions—almost none ambivalent. Whatever your opinion of Haynes’s latest it is certainly a movie worth wrestling with and a compelling addition to Haynes’s already impressive body of work.

    In The Cinema of Todd Haynes (new from Wallflower Press) offers a much-needed critical assessment of Haynes’s films from Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story to I’m Not There.
    The book traces his career from its roots in New Queer Cinema to the Oscar-nominated Far from Heaven (2002). Along the way, it covers such landmark films as Poison (1991), Safe (1995), and Velvet Goldmine (1998). The book look at these films from a variety of angles, including his debts to the avant-garde and such noted precursors as Rainer Werner Fassbinder; his adventurous uses of melodrama; and his incisive portrayals of contemporary life.

    Read the introduction (pdf from the Wallflower site)