Yesterday we featured a trailer for Citizen Kane narrated by its director, a certain Orson Welles. Today we give you footage of another film that needs no introduction spoken over by another filmmaker who doesn’t need one, either: Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. But instead of a polished trailer, Kubrick put together this nearly twenty-minute “promo reel,” which appears in a two-part playlist above. “Split over two parts and recorded off the wall from the projection of the rare 35mm reel, the promo reel features some alternate takes not used in the final cut,” writes Cain Rodriguez at Indiewire. “While we’re not exactly sure what the reel’s original function was — maybe to placate investors since the satirical elements are somewhat downplayed — we’re glad to see this has surfaced online.” Kubrick recounts the story of Dr. Strangelove — one as deeply familiar as ancient myth to those who have, like me, seen the movie countless times, always theatrically. He does so in a surprisingly flat, straightforward manner, given that the final product turned out so thoroughly shot through with the black comedy of the absurd.
Over audible projector noise, he tells of all the now-familiar elements: the B52-s circling constantly, refueling in midair; Brigadier General Jack Ripper’s sudden order to bomb Russia; General Buck Turgidson’s wee-hour departure for the “War Room”; the siege of Burpelson Air Force Base; Group Captain Lionel Mandrake’s struggle for the recall code and subsequent confrontation with the “prevert”-fixated Colonel Bat Guano; President Merkin Muffley’s bad news-breaking call to Russian Premier Dmitri Kissoff; the titular German expatriate scientist’s plan to restart society after the nuclear apocalypse. But as Kubrick talks about these scenes, some of the most memorable in 20th-century cinema, we see different versions of them than the ones to which we’ve long grown accustomed: different angles, different cuts, even different lines. Despite downplaying the comedy, this reel does hint at the brilliance of the material, and moreover of Kubrick’s then-counterintuitive treatment of it. But can anyone who saw it have imagined to what an extent the final film would change the way we think about U.S. foreign policy, military intelligence, and the very concept of global thermonuclear war?
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.