November 25, 2022

"Seriously, you are the first person who seems to have noticed the sexual framework from intromission to last spasm," wrote Stanley Kubrick...

... to LeGrace Benson, a Cornell art history professor, who had written him a letter in 1964 detailing her observations about "Dr. Strangelove."

Now, Benson, who is 92, is interviewed in "My Coffee With Stanley Kubrick" (NY Magazine).

I sat through it three times before I wrote that letter. That was a time when there was a tremendous interest in the difference between the sexuality of real, ordinary people — real life — and the prudery of Hollywood. I don’t think prudery is a good idea ever. So I forced myself to go even to pornographic films. I couldn’t stand them, but I did it... But that was the background from which I wrote that letter.
If I were to write a letter about Strangelove today, I would want to talk about the sexuality in the movie and its connection to politics. I see it around us all the time right now — it’s seamless. You can’t take them apart. They feed on each other, and I believe I see that in the far right....

Yes, people are not talking enough these days — not deeply, anyway — about sexuality and politics. Somehow, there's more of a sexual quality to the right wing. According to Benson!

While we were walking together before coffee, he said, “I’m making a film about outer space and aliens. What do you think aliens look like?” I have never forgotten that question, because I had never thought about what aliens look like. The question just sat in my mind, and recently I thought, Now I know the answer to the question. Too bad Stanley Kubrick’s not here to hear it.

Here's that letter she wrote:

28 comments:

Rollo said...

The universe is a big place. Very few planets anywhere near us would be likely to have life forms that resembled us.

Sebastian said...

"people are not talking enough these days — not deeply, anyway — about sexuality and politics"

Have they ever talked "deeply" about that? Who? When? What "deep" things are there to say about it, as opposed to shallow or silly things?

robother said...

Begging the question, did even Kubrick himself notice the sexual framework?

rcocean said...

Interesting that she saw a lot of sex in Dr. Stangelove since there exactly one woman in the movie, and she gets 2 minutes of screentime. There is another kind of sex talk in the movie:

1) There's the title
2) There General Ripper blaming the "international communist conspriacy" for his impotence.
3) POE
4) The Soviet dictator is having a fling with a woman and can't be found
5) Underground caves with 10 women for every man
7) A guy could have a good time in Las Vegas with this kit
8) Don't try any sexual perversions or I'll blow your head off
9) George C. Scott in his bathing suit with his GF.

Sex is always good for jokes and ridicule, and so showing top Generals and Dictators as being obsessd with sex is a good way to mock them. Jokes about Hitler being Gay, were standard until the end of WW II.

tim in vermont said...

I think that it goes way beyond just art, into war. The romantic (in the literary sense of the term) fulfillment in store with the complete destruction of Russia, which the Ukrainians plainly wish with all their being, what price is too high for such a worthy goal? "Carthago delenda est!" Not to worry, if we push Russia into too tight of a corner, "I am not saying we won't get our hair mussed..."

Cooler heads, we can only hope, will prevail. If this is on Criterion, I need to watch it again. Supposedly Putin has watched it, according to Oliver Stone, who has interviewed him at length. Putin also reputedly watched the anal rape, with an AK-47, and murder of Khaddafy as the denouement of NATO's aggressive war against Libya, 12 times. So Putin has an idea of NATO has in mind for him. Just one more way that Hillary made the world a better place.

rhhardin said...

It seems wrong to me. The orgasm isn't the point, just the surprise ending.

gspencer said...

"I know how it is, baby. Tell you what you do. You just start your countdown, and old Bucky'll be back here before you can say... Blast Off!"

Way, way, way great movie.

n.n said...

Uranus.

effinayright said...

robother said...
Begging the question, did even Kubrick himself notice the sexual framework?
***********

A while back I read a late-60's analysis of "2001" where EVERYTHING had a sexual meaning, from the sperm-like space ship to (of course) Astronaut Bowman's explosive re-entry into the airlock chamber HAL had locked him out of.

btw: whatever happened to Sigmund Freud, whose sexual theories were ubiquitous and explained everything, while predicting nothing?

Now, there's no longer neurosis or even garden-variety unhappiness, only victimhood, sexism, racism and political oppression.

Given the choice I'd go with Freud. With psychoanalysis, at least, the neurotic has to reflect on whether his own behavior is contributing to his unhappiness.

Not so for "the woke".

narciso said...

General ripper is a manque for lemay and a ankshot against goldwater

Joe Smith said...

'A while back I read a late-60's analysis of "2001" where EVERYTHING had a sexual meaning, from the sperm-like space ship to (of course) Astronaut Bowman's explosive re-entry into the airlock chamber HAL had locked him out of.'

Don't blame me doc, I'm not the one with the dirty pictures...

Narr said...

General Turgidson? Sexual pre-verts? Nope, nuttin sexuul about that movie.

Freud's ideas, like Marx's, and whether good, bad, or ugly, have been taken into the modern worldview in corrupted and adulterated forms--which is reflected by their ubiquity in application to situations that would leave those two scratching their heads.

One reading is an old one: power is sexual; even the contest of power can be sexual, whether there's a woman involved or not.

Ann Althouse said...

Her point is not that there are a lot of sexual references but that the entire film "structured formally as a kind of duplication of sexual intercourse" — there's a time line that corresponds to the sequence of a sexual encounter.

narciso said...

Red alert the source material was a dark comedy

Tina Trent said...

No, it isn't complicated. She's just a dumb cunt. Reading the book might help. Or not.

These people were drug-addled predators who went about in pity for themselves.

Sorry, dad, it's boring at best.

effinayright said...

Ann Althouse said...
Her point is not that there are a lot of sexual references but that the entire film "structured formally as a kind of duplication of sexual intercourse" — there's a time line that corresponds to the sequence of a sexual encounter.
**********

I think Joe Smith sums up the answer to such a claim.

(But for some reason, I have a strange urge to listen to Ravel's "Bolero" right now....)

Eric said...

She seems to say that the film has the standard arc "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy regains girl." Nothing deep there. That's not to say that the movie isn't very good.

Lurker21 said...

Gen. Edwin Walker was another possible model for Gen. Ripper. Dr. Strangelove appears to be based on Wernher von Braun and other German rocket scientists, with an added touch of Edward Teller. The president looks and acts a lot like somebody's idea of Adlai Stevenson.

I suppose one could see the build-up to any war as similar to the build-up to a sexual encounter. Tension and release.

Saint Croix said...

ha ha ha

"Survival kit contents check. In them you'll find: one forty-five caliber automatic; two boxes of ammunition; four days' concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings. Shoot, a fella' could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff."

Saint Croix said...

the entire film "structured formally as a kind of duplication of sexual intercourse"

that would be a fun term paper

you'd have to identify

first base

second base

male erection

third base

sexual intercourse

all I remember is the orgasm at the end

(baby creation is 2001, of course)

rcocean said...

"Red alert the source material was a dark comedy"

The script was a dark comedy. The original source material was a serious novel ala "Failsafe". In fact, the original novel was so similar to "failsafe", the the Red Alert author sued for plagarism and won (out of court settlement).

Ambrose said...

Wow - Kubrick compliments you for your observation. That's like getting an A+ on a term paper. I would have saved it too.

Narr said...

. . five . . four . . three . . two . . one . . we have erection . . we have beat-off!

The back-and-forth in the War Room can be seen as mutual foreplay, if you like that sort of thing, and if people want to offer some detailed interpretations on the theme, I'll read it.

I'm still partial to the Kubrick as Critic of Technology Theory as the key to most of his films--at least the ones in modern or future settings.

Ambrose said...

Dr. Strangelove is interesting - even for its time- for having no women, none, in the cast.

Ex-PFC Wintergreen said...

Of course Kubrick put in the sex metaphors deliberately, along with his co-writers Peter George (author of the source material, the 1958 novel Red Alert) and Terry Southern. And George’s novel was in no way a black comedy; that was mostly Kubrick and likely especially Southern’s work. The Pynchonesque names were all invented for the movie, as was the character of Dr. Strangelove.

To clear up some not-exactly-correct stuff in previous comments:
The character of Dr. Strangelove was largely based on Herman Kahn (nuclear strategist with RAND), with some Von Neumann, Von Braun, and Teller thrown in for good measure. Kissinger wasn’t in the mix at all.
Gen. Ripper was based on SAC Commanding General Thomas Power, who according to Richard Rhodes (in Rhodes’ magnificent book Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb) was well-known in SAC to be an advocate of a nuclear first strike by the US against the USSR, and considered by some of his subordinates to be “unhinged”.
Gen. Turgidson was based to some degree on Curtis LeMay, the architect of SAC, but the Turgidson character is played as a buffoon (due to some trickery Kubrick played on George C. Scott), while LeMay, whether you agreed with him or not, was not the madman he was often depicted as in popular culture.
And my favorite anecdote about the movie - Slim Pickens wasn’t ever told it was satire.

It’s interesting from our remove of nearly sixty years to look at Dr. Strangelove and its contemporary, Fail-Safe; the latter has mostly been forgotten while the former is recognized as one of the best movies of all time. In this case, satire is definitely not what closes on Saturday night. There may be a lesson in here for those wishing to make their voices heard…

Fred Drinkwater said...

Narciso, admittedly I read Red Alert about 50 years ago,but i remember it as no kind of comedy, but straight cold war fiction. Similar to Alas, Babylon.

walter said...

Maybe she was just fucking with him.

Robert Cook said...

"Begging the question, did even Kubrick himself notice the sexual framework?"

"Raising" the question.

And, yes, of course he did.