Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying, Sit Down and Relax For a Bit, Try and Read or Something, Maybe Eat a Cheese Sandwich, But Basically Do Anything Other Than Obsessively Think About Being Obliterated in a Massive Nuclear Apocalypse
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“Ooo... I wanna sap and impurify some precious bodily fluids, too.”
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying, Sit Down and Relax For a Bit, Try and Read or Something, Maybe Eat a Cheese Sandwich, But Basically Do Anything Other Than Obsessively Think About Being Obliterated in a Massive Nuclear Apocalypse was an explosively mind-blowing one man show performed by Peter Sellers' corpse in 1984.
Improvising over three hundred different characters, Sellers took a darkly satirical look at international custard pie fights, sexual harassment within the workplace, and the policy of mutually assured stupidity held by world leaders, and what happens when the three converge for a hilariously untidy, thermonuclear end to civilization. On the bright side, he alluded to a subterranean aftermath in which females would outnumber males a hundred to one and outdated concepts like monogamy and woman's clothing would be vanquished amidst the bittersweet radioactive fallout. The entire act was performed in black and white and was credited with creeping the hell out of the audience, thus bringing an end to the The Cold War.
More importantly, it explored the age old question, "Can a man blissfully and passionately dry-hump a hydrogen bomb in front of a live audience and dare call it comedy?" The answer, as Peter Sellers proved, is, "He can if one of his personae speaks with a silly cowboy accent."
edit "Plan R" for Reanimation
Peter Sellers died in 1980 and was, as custom dictates for British comedians, frozen in especially dry ice and left on display in the herb garden of the Amersham Museum in Buckinghamshire. No sooner had he been planted and placarded when his fourth wife, Lynne Frederick, began her shopping spree on his estate, snatching up everything that Sellers hadn't ritualistically burned in a fit of flaming, bipolar melodrama before his death. When she was through, all that was left for his scattered children were sixpence, none the richer if you ask me, a laserdisc copy of The Magic Christian:The Starkey Starr Edition and a note that read: If you want it, here it is. Come and get it. It's goin' fast.
That it did. Pouring a few million pounds down her gullet, Lynne, talentless and divorced from her rebound husband, an English twit named Sir David Paradine Frost, needed to supplant her financial woes and whiskey demons. The simplest method she could conceive was to use the power of voodoo to resurrect Peter, then manipulate him with her feminine wiles into performing in a string of increasingly contrived and misguided Pink Panther sequels. She was one desperate drunk.
At that very moment a business card was slipped under her door for Madame LeMerde's Voodoo Nail Salon and, seeing this as divine providence because she needed a good pedicure, Lynne shoved off across town. Upon entering the establishment she was struck with the wafting scent of patchouli mixed with nail polish remover as the mysterious Lemerde, high voodoo priestess and non-accredited beautician, met her at the door, then licked Lynne's left palm. LeMerde then tottered toward a dusty shelf, removed an ornate wooden box carved with ominous depictions of skull buggery and procured two Haitian monkey paws, a vial of termites, and a tub of fried chicken grease. After such a delicious lunch, she was ready to make with the voodoo.
Dexterously manipulating her rightmost breast with one hand and a Ouija's pendulum with the other, Madame LeMerde did her finest chicken impression as the lights mysteriously dimmed. The room itself seemed to sigh, or had a spot of indigestion, and Madame's pendulum swung violently over the letter P. LeMerde raised a bowl of imitation wombat blood over her head and invoked the name of the Goblin King, as the pendulum hovered over the O. Then the lights shattered, the candles quaked and a low, wailing moan bellowed from the minifridge. The pendulum rocked above E and a voice sprang from somewhere over by the bathroom, saying what sounded like: "Purity of Essence". Then it cleared its ethereal throat and boomed, "Parsley of Erection!" Peter had arisen!
Startled that she had actually conjured something other than the parting of fools and their money, LeMerde hurried to close the incantation so she could get some of that sweet, sweet cash, but accidentally spilled the wombat blood within the sacred circle. "Oh well," she thought, "ain't nothin' a bit of HP Sauce won't fix." The spirits were displeased with this unsanctified and unholy substitution. Lynne raced for the herb garden, looking forward to some cash of her own. What she found, instead, was a reanimated husband who really did love her for her mind. And then ate it.
The truth was, the business card providence, patchouli, palm licking and nail polish, the monkey paws and chicken grease, the tit and the pendulum, the manipulation of various light sources, the moaning and even the HP Sauce substitution were all a part of Stanley Kubrick's master plan to get his new theatre production off the ground and it would take nothing less than the life, death and voodoo reanimation of Peter Sellers to accomplish this feat. Neither Lynne Frederick nor Madame LeMerde knew of his sinister plot, making them both Kubrick's rubes.
edit A Look at the Big Board
Peter may have been feeling a bit peckish for some human flesh, but he was always starving for attention. The idea of performing a one man show for his grand return to the limelight was just what his ego needed, so he asked Stanley for the script. "Well, there isn't necessarily a script," Kubrick told him, "but we do have this old trunk of props and costumes left over from Lolita and Terry Southern and I have been talking and we have this idea, you see, that what if we aren't exactly safe? What if a man went, you know, just a little funny in the head, but that man happened to be an Air Force General with access to a nuclear stockpile?"
"That would be the biggest disaster to ever hit the world stage." Peter stated matter-of-factly.
"Exactly my point," replied Stanley. "Comedy gold!"
edit There Are Commies In My Water, Mandrake
With this limited direction and an unlimited number of personalities, Peter opened the show with a stern look and a puff of cigar smoke as the mad General, Jack D. Ripper. Then commenced the glaring. He glared at his audience for a full seven minutes, just staring into the glossy vacuum of their eyes. Once he had their full, confused attention, he thrust himself into a coolly detached rant about how tides are a Communist plot and that, in order to protect their innards, Americans should deliver a slew of nuclear weapons to destroy the moon and a second, larger slew to the Soviet Union. During this heartfelt soliloquy, he just enjoyed the hell out of that cigar. It was borderline obscene. 
In the midst of his cigar-swallowing trick, Peter walks in on himself as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, who he advises to grow a pair and initiate a plan of action, chiefly Plan R. After Mandrake obediently follows these orders, he realizes that he has fallen for himself, yet again, as Plan R stands for "Riquidation." It was Chinese coding, and the world was doomed. Mandrake is really beside himself. No, really. Why didn't he use some of that British sensibility before unleashing his American temperament? With the base on Code Red lockdown and a squadron of B-52 bombers en route to their Soviet drop sites, Peter Mandrake tries to reason with Peter Ripper, but finds himself uncooperative. Only he possesses the three letter recall code which, for obvious reasons, is impossible for the United States government to crack.
Mandrake has no choice but to shuffle the office furniture around in an attempt to recreate a bedroom, as the next scene requires one. Peter sprawls himself out prone on a bed made of preparatory school desks and is transformed into Miss Foreign Affairs, the only woman in his entire performance. With a stylish wig on his head, he picks up a telephone and purrs into it seductively. As he carries on two separate conversations, one with himself on the phone and another with himself in the bathroom, he informs his bathroom self, Buck Turgidson, of what the General has done.
Buck flirts with his sexy female side... in bed. In this scene Peter pulls his wig off and on twenty-three times, continually reassuring himself that no matter how urgent his business at the United States war room may be, it can certainly wait until after one or two quickies. Miss Foreign Affairs finally relents, as Peter knew it would be the last scene in which he'd be able to adorn himself in lipstick and a satin negligee. Ah, the comforts of success.
edit This Prop Department Is Slim Pickings
After commencing his blast-off, Peter rummages through his prop bin for the makings of a B-52's cockpit. Fashioning what he can from a variety of boxes, duct tape and strong titanium cables, Peter is at once aloft, suspended above the audience on wings of cardboard dreams and tomato crates. As he makes semi-convincing airplane noises with his mouth, Peter dons the guises of Lothar and Kong, two airmen aboard the bomber, who are locked in an epic battle of Backgammon when they receive orders to nuke Russia. Two bombs seen in the background are inscribed with the slogans "Instant Genocide" and "Just Add Fusion". As with many other examples of Kubrick's work, the Director was keen to place as many obscenely large and bulbous phallic objects within scenes as humanly possible, the most obvious examples being the Penis Sculpture from A Clockwork Orange, and Tom Cruise from Eyes Wide Shut.
Another set change finds Peter wheeling out a giant round table. Unfolding the legs, Peter finds a place somewhere near the head and becomes President Mangina Muffley, who is being debriefed on the myriad of fun ways that ultimate destruction could unfold. Buck Turgidson advises the President to allow the planes to deliver their payload, because what are a few hundred million lives when there are secretaries and quickies? Not content with this solitary opinion or what it would do to his public image, Peter slowly improvises his way around the entire table of advisers, but quickly becomes bored with the lack of comical accents. A Russian..! That's what Peter needs. He lays the dialect on thick as Alexei de Sadeski, a Soviet blowhard, who wanders about the set, taking photographs of sensitive information with his Polaroid belt buckle. Buck makes for the Russian's buckle, but is struck with the butt of Sadeski's Glock. This pistol whipping excites him, which leads to one of the performance's most famous lines — President Muffley's remark: "Gentlemen... you can't fuck in here. Go to a Hilton."
Sadeski informs the entire group of Peters that if any bombs are dropped, a Soviet Doomsday Device will trigger, ending civilization as they know it. He pauses after stating this, moderately winces, cracks a smile and waits. Finally, the smell reaches the nostrils of the other world leaders. "Oh God, Alexei... just what have you been eating today?" Mangina inquires, plugging his nose with his fingers. "So all that talk was just sort of a big joke? About the Doomsday Device and the like? Just a big fart joke?"
"Unfortunately for us, Mr. President, that was all true," Alexei replies. "I just thought I'd lighten the mood with my foul Communist stench."
They all have a nice, big laugh at this, except for Peter, who flops into a wheelchair and begins spinning in place. It all happens so fast, and appears as nothing but a blur from the audience's perspective, but when Peter finally stops spinning he is once again magically transformed. Dr. Strangelove, a former Nazi scientist, states that a Doomsday Device is something to be proud of, not hidden. The Nazis had an early prototype of such a device, he informs them, but could never find enough Italians to keep it well-oiled.
Back on the Air Force Base, Peter finally penetrates the General's defensive forces as Colonel Batguano, but before he can reach the General, Ripper is dead. Batguano finds a British buffoon looming over the body, working something out in his head.
"What was it the General said?" Mandrake was asking himself. "People ordered everything. Operating pretenses enacted. Portcullis opens exit. Exactly one pitchfork. Please organize everyone." What could it all mean? He was convinced it was all just the ravings of a lunatic. If only he had that three letter code.
"Hey, what's this piece of paper on this here desk?" Batguano inquires. "OPE..? Whaddaya suppose that means?"
"Oh that?" Mandrake takes the slip of paper from the Colonel. "That's nothing. Give it here. I've got a call to make."
After stopping off for a Coke and a pat on his own back, Mandrake phones the President to tell him that he's cracked the code. "Just doing my best, sir," he replies to the President's praise.
The recall code is issued to the bombers and they all abort the mission, except for one, as Lothar and Kong are still engaged in the same epic game of Backgammon and neither is willing to submit. Agreeing to a bathroom break, Lothar heads for the communications terminal, but before he can reach it Kong yells for him to help out in the cargo hold. Lothar finds Kong perched atop "Instant Genocide", grinding it like they just met at a dance club.
"Quick, quick... snap a photo so's I can send it back to my Claudette," Kong barks mid-hump.
Lothar considers the fact that he is currently losing a Backgammon game to this bumblefucker. He then takes into account that Claudette is almost certainly Kong's cousin. He swiftly presses the cargo hatch release.
"Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw!" Kong cries in ecstasy, riding a spiraling bomb that, in this moment of free fall, he has renamed Claudette 2.
"Ka-BOOM!" replies Claudette 2.
edit Sellers' Demon Hand
Perhaps the biggest draw of the show, Peter's right hand seemed to have a mind of it's own. Either possessed by a dark underworld spirit with impeccable comic timing or Sellers was making excuses for venting years of frustration with his work, his appearance and striking out with Sophia Loren, his hand improvised exciting new ways to simultaneously piss off and entertain each crowd.
|I was cured all right. What do you mean....wrong film?|
At times choking the comedian mid-performance, other times using the universal sign for Schmuck and pointing a finger directly at Peter, his hand was an unpredictable delight that had tremendous presence, at times even upstaging the body to which it was attached. Sellers refused to be outdone by his own extremity and would often nibble on the hand or attack it with vice grips and a blowtorch until it removed itself from his spotlight. It would feebly relent and wander off behind his back, only to return to the spotlight a minute later, regaling the audience with shadow puppetry that resembled either a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, to scale, or a hummingbird.
It was during this run in London that Peter's demon hand was first approached to bring it's unique brand of stage presence to American theaters, but after consulting with Peter it was agreed that they would take some time off for macrame and mass sexing. But Broadway is a persistent bitch and while Peter and his hand got comfortable, she was scheming. Also working on the fourteenth run of Cats, but mostly scheming.
edit Broadway — The Ultimate Doomsday Device
Broadway, sensing it really had to appeal to Sellers' sense of character, or too many characters, decided to merge Dr. Strangelove with E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime. In this new, musical form, dubbed Doctorow Strangelove, three Americans of differing financial backgrounds — a struggling black musician, a yuppie soccer mom and a Jewish prostitute — find themselves thrown into a mineshaft after the bombs drop and must learn to make the best of their new living conditions in a Vault-Tec vault for the next ninety-eight years.
|Oh my brothers....WHAT? Not again...I'm off down the Korova Milkbar.|
Helping them adjust are a bevy of historical personages: Evelyn Nesbit, the Skipper, too, Franz Ferdinand, Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray, Chubby Checker, William Randolph Hearst, William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, Booker T. Washington, Leonard Bernstein, Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs, birthday party, cheesecake, and jellybean. Boom! Also, Dr. Strangelove is present as a sort of advice-giving, wise old grandfather type and Buck Turgidson returns as the vault's quickie-obsessed playboy. Oh, and the rest.
What could possibly go wrong?
edit Everything Goes Wrong
In the two years that had passed, Peter had grown stiff and rigid and there were a series of increasingly violent falling outs with Demon Hand, who always wandered back when his pocket change was depleted. They agreed to make amends for one last, monumental performance and Demon Hand playfully flicked Peter's nipple as if to say, "Hey bud, nice jugs. Now let's cash in on the funny."
edit Mistaken Identities and Wardrobe Malfunctions
Though voodoo can do many things — from spicing up a friendly pot luck dinner to the creation of a team of lemur window cleaners — it cannot stop rigor mortis or shower grit. Peter just couldn't perform the way he once had; all of the thousands of characters in this spectacle ended up sounding like a strange blend of every dialect at once. Think Arianna Huffington, but less masculine. At one point, forgetting his lines, Peter shuffled through the contents of his pockets and listed them in a rather mediocre attempt at a Southern drawl. The crowd wasn't buying it, so he fell to the stage, feigning a leg injury, but quickly noticed the crowd wasn't buying that either, so he got up and walked it off.
Peter also had a difficult time keeping track of his costume changes, which were occurring so frequently that for half the performance he threw on everything he could layer until he resembled the Violet Beauregard of fashion gluttony, and the other half he simply strolled around with a tube sock on his Demon Hand.
edit Demon Hand Goes Sockpuppet
Demon Hand became panic stricken ten minutes before the curtain opened and began hyperventilating and flopping around on the table. The only method that would calm the hand in moments like these were those little Chinese balls which are rolled in the palm. But Peter had left those in the hotel room, so he devised a quick fix. Five minutes later, Demon Hand emerged from Peter's boxers, smoking a cigarette. But he still wouldn't go on stage without masking his face.
Performing from within a tube sock, the hand had very limited range. All of the crazy antics had been toned down to base mimicry of Peter's lines and the occasional black power salute. The opening night audience had enough of this convoluted disasterpiece and began chanting for Sellers' famous ending: "Mineshaft! Mineshaft! Mineshaft! Mineshaft!"
edit The Mineshaft Gap Incident
Peter rolled over from stage left and stood from his rickety wheelchair. "So, condemn my entire body of work for one little slip-up? I'll show you all!" With that he turned his back to the audience, dropped his trousers and shouted, "Get a load of this mineshaft gap!" as he hunched over.
The audience quickly fled the theater. Critics proclaimed everything from, "It was the biggest load on Broadway since Everybody Poops: The Musical," to "Whatever you do, do not go see this." Sellers called after the fleeing crowd, "Wait... I have an idea."
But Demon Hand knew that it was over; this gravy train was dead on the turkey tracks. He signed to the audience, "We'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when. But I know we'll meet again some sunny day."
Then he flipped them off, once in every language, to be certain that everyone was fucked.
edit See Also
- Dr. Seuss or: How That Little Guy Who Spoke For the Truffula Trees Was Right Because I Do Miss the Song of the Swomee-Swans and Nobody Really Needed A Thneed After All
- Dr. No or: No Matter How Cool James Bond Thinks He Is, The Highlight of This Film Will Always Be Ursula Andress In That Bikini and Now, If You'll Excuse Me, Something Has Come Up and I Have A Pressing Issue To Fulfill
- Dr. Toughlove or: How I Truly Hate My Spouse and Want a Divorce, But Instead I'll Go On Daytime Television and Share My Problems with a Bald Man Who Will Yell at Me In Front of Millions of People
- Dr. Manhattan or: How Blue Man Group May Be Able To Rock A Plastic Bucket Under Blacklights, But They Can't Build A Floating Glass Castle Out of the Sands of Mars or Bang Seventeen Women While Single-Handedly Staving Foreign Energy Dependence, Now Can They?
- Dr. Wha..? or: How the American Version of Doctor Who Would Totally Star Conan O'Brien Because He's Ginger, But the Unfortunate Side Effect Would Be That His Sonic Screwdriver Would Be Changed To A Death Ray and Any Sign of British Wit Would Be Replaced With That Strings-In-His-Pockets Dance
|Kubrick's Journey to Cinematic Hubris:|
|Fear and Desire | Killer's Kiss | The Killing | Paths of Glory | Spartacus|
|Lolita | Dr. Strangelove | 2001: A Space Odyssey | A Clockwork Orange|
|Barry Lyndon | The Shining | Full Metal Jacket | Eyes Wide Shut|