The Distrust of LBJ-Era Filmmaking


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“I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed,” Buck admits while cycling through facts and figures about casualty rates in the event of a Russian tactical strike. This line—and many others in Kubrick’s masterpiece—have been invoked in recent weeks in the context of a very different sort of international catastrophe and its dubiously motivated overseers; this currency speaks to the timelessness of Dr. Strangelove’s vision even as everything in it is rigorously specific to the mid-’60s: the wryly sacrilegious use of Vera Lynn’s World War II standard “We’ll Meet Again,” a song dedicated to British soldiers leaving their loved ones, to soundtrack a mushroom cloud; the Playboy magazines strewn in the cockpit of the B-52 bomber; the political power vacuum in which the lack of a Kennedy-esque stalwart prefigures mutually assured destruction. But if Kennedy is Dr. Strangelove’s structuring absence, Scott’s jowly, Southern-fried shtick as General Turgidson manifests a weirdly prescient riff on LBJ, who’d shortly be advocating his own callous calculus during the onset and development of the Vietnam War.

‘Cool Hand Luke,’ ‘Strangelove,’ and the Distrust of LBJ-Era Filmmaking, Adam Nayman in The Ringer