When Oliver Stone & Vladimir Putin Chillingly Watched Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove Together

Hav­ing by now seen Stan­ley Kubrick­’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bomb (1964) more times than I can remem­ber, it sur­pris­es me to meet some­one who’s nev­er seen it at all. When I do, my first impulse is always to sug­gest a screen­ing right then and there. This would seem to put me in com­pa­ny with Oliv­er Stone, who in recent years has been doc­u­ment­ed engag­ing in at least one instance of high-pro­file Strangelove evan­ge­lism. As for the new inductee into the Strangelove view­er­ship, he went more than 60 years with­out hav­ing seen the film, but for the last cou­ple of decades had the cred­i­ble excuse of busy­ness: it isn’t just a part-time gig, after all, being the pres­i­dent of Rus­sia.

Stone seized the oppor­tu­ni­ty to watch Dr. Strangelove with Vladimir Putin in the course of film­ing The Putin Inter­views, a four-part doc­u­men­tary series broad­cast on Show­time in 2017. This was­n’t the first time Stone had made a sub­ject of his own inter­ac­tions with a head of state whom many Amer­i­cans con­sid­er malev­o­lent: in 2008’s South of the Bor­der, for exam­ple, he attempt­ed a human­iz­ing cin­e­mat­ic por­trait of Venezue­lan pres­i­dent Hugo Chávez. At Show­time’s Youtube chan­nel, you can watch a vari­ety of clips from The Putin Inter­views, includ­ing Putin giv­ing Stone a tour of his offices, Putin’s reac­tion to the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump, and Putin check­ing in with Stone before skat­ing out onto the ice for a game of hock­ey.

The view­ing of Dr. Strangelove comes at the series’ very end, which is pre­sum­ably an effort on Stone’s part to save the “best” for last — and as Cold War Amer­i­can cin­e­ma goes, one could hard­ly hope for a bet­ter selec­tion. Based on Peter George’s Red Alert, a straight­for­ward thriller nov­el about Amer­i­can and Sovi­et pro­to­cols of nuclear-defense man­age­ment gone dis­as­trous­ly wrong, the film only took shape when Kubrick real­ized it had to be a com­e­dy. As he lat­er recalled, “I found that in try­ing to put meat on the bones and to imag­ine the scenes ful­ly, one had to keep leav­ing out of it things which were either absurd or para­dox­i­cal, in order to keep it from being fun­ny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in ques­tion.”

As Joseph Heller real­ized while writ­ing Catch-22, cer­tain ridicu­lous truths about war sim­ply can’t be por­trayed non-comed­ical­ly. As real­ized through the painstak­ing­ly exact film­mak­ing of Kubrick and his col­lab­o­ra­tors, Dr. Strangelove is the black­est of black come­dies. “There are cer­tain things in this film that indeed make us think,” Putin says to Stone after the clos­ing mon­tage of mush­room clouds. He even cred­its Kubrick with tech­ni­cal fore­sight: “Mod­ern weapon sys­tems have become more sophis­ti­cat­ed, more com­plex. But this idea of a retal­ia­to­ry weapon and the inabil­i­ty to con­trol such weapon sys­tems still hold true today.” Not much has changed since the days of Dr. Strangelove, he admits, and now that he’s under­gone his own bout of geopo­lit­i­cal brazen­ness, let’s hope that he remem­bers how the movie ends.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Putin’s War on Ukraine Explained in 8 Min­utes

Inside the Mak­ing of Dr. Strangelove: Doc­u­men­tary Reveals How a Cold War Sto­ry Became a Kubrick Clas­sic

The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Title Sequences and Trail­ers Cre­at­ed by Pablo Fer­ro: Dr. Strangelove, A Clock­work Orange, Stop Mak­ing Sense, Bul­litt & Oth­er Films

Two Scenes from Stan­ley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, Recre­at­ed in Lego

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (12)
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  • Jan Wolitzky says:

    No one has gone more than 60 years with­out hav­ing seen the film. It was only released 58 years ago.

  • Jan Wolitzky says:

    “Dr. Strangelove” opens with a sequence of a B‑52 bomber refu­el­ing from a KC-135 tanker. Remark­ably, near­ly 60 years lat­er, the USAF is still fly­ing both planes, still in oppo­si­tion to Rus­sians. 60 years before the film opened, the Wright broth­ers had­n’t yet flown.

  • a says:

    Stone is a dis­gust­ing syco­phant for the world-class pre-mod­ern auto­crat, and has enabled this mur­der­ous anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic dic­ta­tor for years in the name of “fair­ness”. He’s a shal­low, cal­low man, unfor­tu­nate­ly.

  • David Kravitz says:

    The Sovi­et Union did not exist in 1903, either.

  • Tim Queeney says:

    The orig­i­nal end­ing of Strangelove was a pie fight. Then Stan­ley came up with the idea of the nuclear det­o­na­tions to the song “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn. The song was report­ed­ly sug­gest­ed by British set design­er Ken Adam.

    We should be so lucky if it’s only a pie fight this time.

  • Tim Queeney says:

    The orig­i­nal end­ing of Strangelove was a pie fight. Then Stan­ley came up with the idea of the nuclear det­o­na­tions to the song “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn. The song was report­ed­ly sug­gest­ed by British set design­er Ken Adam.

    We should be so lucky if it’s only a pie fight this time.

  • oluC says:

    Some oth­er coun­try YOULD remem­ber how it ends too. The only ones who drop the thing. ON CIVILIANS.

  • Marc Flav says:

    E o sen­hor é um nés­cio

  • Ken says:

    OC, I don’t think Jan Wolitzky was be-
    ing pedan­tic. Maybe you should brush up
    on your math/vocabulary skills: In 2017, when Putin first watched “Dr. Strangelove”, he had gone 53 years
    with­out hav­ing seen the 1964 film.
    53 years can­not be “round­ed up” to “more than 60 years”, unless you’re
    try­ing to invent a new def­i­n­i­tion of
    “round­ing up.” If you talk to a New York Jets fan in the near future, try
    men­tion­ing to her/him that the Jets haven’t won a Super Bowl in “more than
    60 years.” She/he will not react well,
    since every foot­ball fan and every New
    York­er knows that it’s only been 53 years (Shout-out to Broad­way Joe).

  • Rollie DeMise says:

    If Putin was over 60 when he first saw the film, he had gone more than 60 years with­out see­ing it.

    See how that works? The date of the film’s release is not what deter­mines the accu­ra­cy of that state­ment.

    Wan­na-be pedants, you are hoist by your own petard. In the words of today’s youth, you have been pwned.

  • David John says:

    The Wright broth­ers had flown in 1903, more than 60 years before “Dr.Strangelove” opened in 1964.

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