Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Opening Titles and Song: Dr. Strangelove

Whether you’ve noticed or not, I’ve been on a music motif this month. Still, I haven’t entirely abandoned movies. So when song and film coalesce, I try to go out of my way to note it. In this regard, teeing up the 2009 Blu-ray to one of my favorite black comedies from the ’60s recently. Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant satire, Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Those that appreciate both would be hard-pressed to ignore this film’s opening titles sequence.

Designed by another famed movie graphics master, Pablo Ferro, the sequence stood out for a number of distinct aspects. Being Kubrick’s last black & white film, the startling aerial cinematography of a KC-135 tanker re-fueling a B-52 Stratofortress uniquely served as the backdrop for the movie titles. Instead of doing models, the designer deployed canned military footage in the piece — good thing as the Pentagon famously vowed to not help the production given their dislike of the screenplay.

Still, the mise en scène established a barely disguised sexual overtone with the H-bomb in the era of the ’60s and the communist-hating “macho war-mongering” of the time. Missed by film censors, it remains the stuff of directorial and design legend. Next would be the actual titles themselves. They were entirely hand-drawn (contrary to title production of the period). Ferro was one of the first to employ them, and all the while as a bomber “mounted” the tanker in mid-flight.

It’s still evocative. Pablo Ferro drew the titles to fit perfectly with the images flying and mating across the screen, and draw attention to both. With grease pencil on panes of glass, no less. He thought this would be transferred to real titles at a later date in the production. Kubrick on the other hand loved it. So Pablo edited those same panes along with the stock footage together.

Yet, he goofed. After release, Kubrick pointed out to the designer a typo in the titles. A missing ‘d’ in that section identifying the source novel. Watch closely to see, “Base on the Book • Red Alert • by Peter George”, that appeared.

Even so, along with those high altitude views and original graphics, the accompanying and hypnotic instrumental stood on equal footing. It metaphorically tied the segment all together. The melodic song (uncredited), Try a Little Tenderness, written in 1932 by Harry M. Woods, Reginald Connelly, and Jimmy Campbell was wonderfully and cleverly placed in the sequence.

The old love song, one covered so damn well by Otis Redding and others years later, offered another clue to the suggestive aerial ballet on display. Arranged by Laurie Johnson for the Studio Orchestra recording, the same composer who wrote the delightful theme song for the stellar ’60s British TV series, The Avengers, it’s a tune that helped set these opening titles sequence on top, so to speak ;-).

To view this sequence in a higher definition, make sure to click over to The Art of the Title folks and their clip:

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) — Art of the Title.

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29 Responses to “Opening Titles and Song: Dr. Strangelove”

  1. Fogs' Movie Reviews

    I swear to god, I never even realized that was Try a Little Tenderness until you pointed it out just now! LOL. Wow. Just had never heard an orchestral arrangement of it like that I guess. LOL Thanks for illuminating me!

    Of course, hard not to pick up on the other stuff. Definitely love the two planes “Hooking up” and the hand drawn lettering. Stuff of legend, you know?

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  2. ruth

    It’s been ages since I saw this film back in a film class so I didn’t remember they used ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ in the opening sequence! I LOVE this music and the opening title design. I want to rewatch Dr. Strangelove again as my hubby hasn’t seen it. I quite enjoyed the war satire. Great post, Michael!

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    • le0pard13

      Yeah, I could see that college film courses would have this one as part of their curriculum. Good one to share with hubby, too :D. Thanks, Ruth.

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  3. jackdeth72

    Hi, Michael and company:

    One of the great orchestral openings on film.

    Subtle violin, cello, flute and wood wind does add a touch of tenderness to one of the more, bumpy and jittery of manned flight functions.

    Tanking a BUFF.

    Lots of vortices come off the upper KC-135 aircraft’s engines as the extended boom pumps fuel at an incredible rate. Causing buffeting over the B-52’s huge upper surface, vertical tail and horizontal stabilizers.

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    • le0pard13

      Sounds like you’ve got some insight to this aerial tanker procedure, Kevin. Wonderful and appreciative comment, my friend. Watching the Stratofortress move about during this refueling, and all to this splendid music, was indeed one of great opening on film. Thanks so much for joining in on this :D.

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      • jackdeth72

        Hi, Michael:

        Many years around multi-engine (Heavy) aircraft will do that. Eight years as a Crew Chief on KC-135s. The rest divided amongst C-141s, C-130s and assorted fighters,

        The KC flies in a race track pattern until the receiver comes along. Then depending on weather and winds, down drafts and air pockets, flies either straight and level or continues circling as the receiver is topped off.

        The KC’s refueling boom can extend and retract as need be. With the pumped fuel acting as a shock absorber inside the boom. A neat little feat of engineering that’s about 60 years old.

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        • le0pard13

          I thought you might be Air Force. I’ve connected with, and met some in person, bloggers who are ex-AF or related to them. It’s been great how that’s worked out. I’m happy and proud to know you, Kevin. Thank you, my friend.

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  4. Ronan

    This is one of those films only Stanley Kubrick could make Michael, as bizarre as it is thought-provoking but most importantly, it injects humour into something which is far from funny, and yet laughable.

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    • le0pard13

      I agree. This film was something only Kubrick could present (especially if you’re familiar with the source material and what he then turned it into). Many thanks, Ronan.

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  5. Hunter

    Very informative post! Perfect beginning for that film, with all of the”poisoning out precious bodily fluids” stuff going on there. Oh man, that film is so funny and I haven’t seen it in ages!

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  6. Pipeline

    Thank you for posting this info. It has always been of interest to me that Kubrick opened a film about nuclear obliteration with such beautiful calming music. He was always the master of juxtaposition in all his films, so this fit perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

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