Thursday, May 19, 2016

Dr. Strangelove v. Jihadi John

Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz (1969) was based on a Leon Uris novel about the Cuban missile crisis. There’s a famous scene in the Hotel Theresa an iconic Harlem waterhole and home to legends like Sugar Ray Robinson and Castro himself even makes a cameo appearance, by way of newsreel footage from a Havana demonstration. It’s all water under the bridge, with the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs invasion and Russia’s bold act of trying to place armaments 90 miles from the US shores all consigned to history. Now the action is in a totally different part of the world where Japan, China and South Korea wait to see what horrors the petulant North Korean leader Disney enthusiast and some time film critic (who threated retaliation for The Interview, 2014), Kim Jong-un, will unleash next. It’s true that Kim Jong-un has established a new gold standard for critics, who like politicians are always being accused of doing nothing (at the very least his actions as an auteur  challenge the notion  that “those who do, do and those who can’t do criticize”). But the real question is, are we more afraid today than we were during the Cold War? Kim Jong-un’s threats of producing an ICBM with a nuclear warhead that could hit the US shores seem about as dangerous as the drawings of the vacuum cleaner qua atomic reactor that Alec Guinness furnished in the film adaptation of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana (1959 and Donald Trump has even offered to sit down with him for a tete a tete. Jihad is the hottest act under the big top and with 9/11, it proved itself to be more than just posturing of the kind that Mr. Kim specializes in. But remember On the Beach (1959) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962), two films made from books about the Cold War era? And remember Dr. Strangelove (1964) and the uneasy laugher it produced, in particular since Kubrick’s central comic figure was such a neat cross-breeding of Hitler and Henry Kissinger? And remember fallout shelters? Now with snipers taking fire in Cineplex’s and Paris becoming the city of the wrong kind of light (that produced by explosives), we may think the world has become a dangerous place, but is it more threatening than the Cold War when we all lived in constant fear of oblivion?

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