“Dmitri, we have a little problem. Dmitri? We've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the article. Well, see, Dmitri, something is wrong... it isn't very funny.”
“Ooo... I wanna sap and impurify some precious bodily fluids, too.”
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying, Sit Down and Relax For a Bit, Try and Read or Something, Maybe Eat a Cheese Sandwich, But Basically Do Anything Other Than Obsessively Think About Being Obliterated in a Massive Nuclear Apocalypse was an explosively mind-blowing one man show performed by Peter Sellers' corpse in 1984.
Improvising over three hundred different characters, Sellers took a darkly satirical look at international custard pie fights, sexual harassment within the workplace, and the policy of mutually assured stupidity held by world leaders, and what happens when the three converge for a hilariously untidy thermonuclear end to civilization. On the bright side, he alluded to a subterranean aftermath in which females would outnumber males a hundred to one and outdated concepts like monogamy and women's clothing would be vanquished amidst the bittersweet radioactive fallout. The entire act was performed in black and white and was credited with creeping the hell out of people, thus bringing an end to the The Cold War.
More importantly, it explored the age old question, "Can a dead man rise from the grave only to blissfully and passionately dry-hump a hydrogen bomb in front of a live audience and dare call it comedy?" The answer, as Peter Sellers proved, is, "He can if one of his personas speaks with a silly German accent."
"Plan R" for Reanimation
Peter Sellers died in 1980 and was, as custom dictates for British comedians, frozen in extremely dry ice and left on display in the herb garden of the Amersham Museum in Buckinghamshire. No sooner had he been planted and placarded when his fourth wife, Lynne Frederick, began her shopping spree on his estate, snatching up everything that Sellers hadn't ritualistically burned in a fit of bipolar melodrama before his death. When she was through, all that was left for his children from a previous marriage were sixpence and a laserdisc copy of The Magic Christian.
Quickly blowing through a few million pounds on booze, Lynne, talentless and divorced from her rebound husband, an English twit named Sir David Paradine Frost, needed to supplant her financial woes and could think of no simpler method than to use the power of voodoo to resurrect Peter and manipulate him with her feminine wiles into performing in a string of increasingly contrived and misguided Pink Panther sequels. She was quite desperate.
At that very moment a business card was slipped under her door for Madame LeMerde's Voodoo Nail Salon and, seeing this as divine providence and also needing a good manicure, Lynne shoved off across town. Upon entering the establishment she was struck with the wafting scent of patchouli and nail polish remover as the mysterious Lemerde, high voodoo priestess and beautician, met her at the door and licked her palm. She then went to a dusty shelf, removed an ornate wooden box carved with ominous depictions of skull buggery and procured two Haitian monkey paws, a vial of termites, and a tub of fried chicken grease. After finishing up with lunch, she proceeded to make with the voodoo.
Dexterously manipulating her left breast with one hand and a Ouija's pendulum with the other, Madame LeMerde made some noises not unlike a chicken, and the lights dimmed. The room seemed to sigh, or perhaps had a spot of indigestion, and Madame's pendulum swung over the letter P. Then, raising a bowl of wombat blood over her head and invoking the name of the Goblin King, David Bowie, LeMerde's pendulum-bearing hand hovered over the letter O. The lights shattered, the candles quaked and a low, wailing moan bellowed from the distance. The pendulum pointed to E and a voice sprang from the air, or perhaps the bathroom, saying what sounded at first to be, "Purity of Essence". Then it cleared its disembodied throat and boomed, "Parsley of Erection", indicating that Peter had risen.
Startled that her bunk voodoo had actually conjured something other than the parting of fools and their money, LeMerde accidentally spilled the wombat blood within the sacred circle, but decided to close the incantation with a bottle of HP Sauce instead, hoping the unsanctified substitution wouldn't produce any unexpected results. When Lynne traveled to Buckinghamshire to find her reanimated husband who, without any sign of hesitation, ate her brains, she certainly wasn't expecting it. In Zombie Sellers defense, she deserved a good mind munching.
Turns out the business card providence, the patchouli, palm licking and nail polish, the monkey paws and chicken grease, the tit and the pendulum, the manipulation of light sources, the moaning and even the HP Sauce were all a part of Stanley Kubrick's master plan to get his new theatre production off the ground and it would take nothing less than the life, death and voodoo reanimation of Peter Sellers to accomplish this feat. Neither Lynne Frederick nor Madame LeMerde knew of this plot, making them both Kubrick's rubes.
A Look at the Big Board
One might ask why Peter Sellers was such an integral piece of Kubrick's theatre puzzle. After all, the Pythons were kicking around town and would require no voodoo at all to secure. They were Kubrick's initial choice, but they preferred to play women, a gender this show only had one of, so they balked. Plus, Kubrick had no script. This is not surprising, as he usually had little or no script, anyway. He did have a basic premise, not to mention a lengthy list of notes, but no script to speak of.
All the scene changes would be set to the third movement of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major. Kubrick was adamant about this, claiming anything by Wagner would be too predictable.
With such a wonderfully uplifting storyline and such a fine, zombie actor, what could go wrong?
"Act funny". At first it just said "Act", but then writer Terry Southern added in the "funny" bit. Needless to say, Sellers had no difficulty with this directive as he was perpetually in a state of acting and couldn't help but be funny.
He then put the base on Code Red and commanded his planes to exceed their failsafe points and drop a nuke on those communist bastards, which he then attempted to talk himself out of, but to no avail. Only he possessed the three letter recall code, but would not tell it to himself. And a three letter code was, for obvious reasons, impossible for the American government to crack.
Sellers, also in charge of all the set changes, raced around eliminating all of the office furniture and used his best guess to fashion a cockpit out of cardboard boxes and love. He didn't have much to work with considering the prop department was slim pickings, but he did the best he could.
He then changed the set again by wheeling out a great round table and slowly improvised his way around it as the entire American administration. Playing the President, a powerless, ineffectual man, he tried to figure out his course of action to prevent an all-out nuclear war. The best bet seemed to be a campfire and a sing-along with seventeen different accents.</crap>
The two bombs seen in the background are inscribed with the slogans "Instant Genocide" and "Just Add Fusion". As with many other examples of Kubrick's work, the Director was keen to place as many obscenely large and bulbous phallic objects within shots as humanly possible, the most obvious examples being the Penis Sculpture from A Clockwork Orange, and Tom Cruise from Eyes Wide Shut.
What Went Wrong
Major Wardrobe Malfunctions
A bit slowed from the four years of being dead, Sellers had a hard time keeping up with his costume changes, and would often be partially dressed as one character as he was acting like another. This was especially comical when he wore the moustache and hat of Group Captain Mandrake while acting the part of the semi-nude secretary and when he acted the part of bombardier Lieutenant "Darth" Earl Jones while still wearing the pubic hair afro wig of American President Mangina Muffley.
Tearing Down the Fourth Wall
At one point, forgetting his lines, Peter shuffled through the contents of his pockets and listed them in a rather mediocre attempt at a Southern drawl. Realizing he was failing at the accent, he then fell to the stage, feigning a leg injury, and complained that he would not be able to carry on with the performance. Then something clicked, he gained his composure, and walked it off.
Sellers' Demon Hand
Perhaps the biggest draw of the show, Peter's right hand seemed to have a mind of it's own. Either possessed of some dark, underworldly spirit as a result of bad mojo or Sellers was just making up excuses for venting an artist's typical frustration with his work and, to a greater degree, his audience, his hand improvised new and exciting ways to simultaneously piss off and entertain each crowd.
|I was cured all right. What do you mean....wrong film?|
At times choking the comedian mid-performance, other times using Latin sign language to spell out the lyrics of Beds Are Burning by Midnight Oil letter by letter, his hand was an unpredictable delight and had tremendous presence, at times even upstaging Peter himself. Sellers did not like this, and would often nibble on the hand or attack it with vice grips and a blowtorch until it removed itself from his spotlight. Which was a shame really, because that demon hand sure could cast a kickass B-52 bomber-shaped shadow puppet which was remarkably accurate and completely to scale. Except when it looked like a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Or a hummingbird.
Broadway — The Ultimate Doomsday Device
Broadway, unable to leave well enough alone,
Sellers later said that he only agreed to perform because he mistook E. L. Doctorow for Stanley Kubrick and he "needed the money".
|Oh my brothers....WHAT? Not again...I'm off down the Korova Milkbar.|
Peter stood from his wheelchair, turned his back to the audience, dropped his trousers and revealed his very own "mineshaft gap", quickly clearing the theatre. It was the biggest bomb dropped on Broadway since all nine runs of Cats combined and prompted critics to proclaim, "Whatever you do, do not go see this." Sellers belted out after the fleeing audience, "We'll meet again... don't know how, don't know when," which was funny because the show was cancelled after that opening night fiasco. Sensing that his professional career had come to its third or fourth close, Peter silently crept back underground with a woman sixty years his junior, pratfalling the whole way.
- Dr. Suess or: How That Little Guy Who Spoke For the Truffula Trees Was Right Because I Do Miss the Song of the Swomee-Swans and Nobody Really Needed A Thneed After All
- Dr. Toughlove or: How I Truly Hate My Spouse and Want a Divorce, But Instead I'll Go On Daytime Television and Share My Problems with a Bald Man Who Will Yell at Me In Front of Millions of People
- Dr. No or: No Matter How Cool James Bond Thinks He Is, The Highlight of This Film Will Always Be Ursula Andress In A White Bikini and Now, If You'll Excuse Me, Something Has Come Up and I Have A Pressing Issue To Fulfill
|Kubrick's Journey to Cinematic Hubris:|
|Fear and Desire | Killer's Kiss | The Killing | Paths of Glory | Spartacus|
|Lolita | Dr. Strangelove | 2001: A Space Odyssey | A Clockwork Orange|
|Barry Lyndon | The Shining | Full Metal Jacket | Eyes Wide Shut|