Above is the 1964 trailer for Stanley Kubrick’s wonderful black comedy, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. I first saw this trailer when I went to see the 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey at The Astor Theatre. Luckily, I hadn’t yet seen Dr. Strangelove, so I experienced the trailer in an ideal context. It plays with the material, and wouldn’t be out of place as a trailer mashup on YouTube, giving very little about the movie away, but still managing to make you want to see it through its smile-inducing ingenuity.
The trailer is directly inspired by the work of Canadian avant-garde artist, Arthur Lipsett. His experimental films inspired many other filmmakers such as George Lucas, who went on to make THX 1138 which included elements of Lipsett’s 21-87 (below), and even named Princess Leia’s holding cell in A New Hope ‘No. 2187’ after the title.
Lipsett’s work is all about editing. His audio is fragmented in that there are so many different sources, but it is collated and organised in such a way that it conveys the themes and ideas of the piece perfectly, and dictates the imagery, rather than the other way round. His use of match cuts, especially between people’s faces in Very Nice, Very Nice, is a striking aspect of his work.
This attention to detail, to every frame, is what is so distinctive about Lipsett’s work. However, when Kubrick asked Lipsett to create a trailer for the film, he declined, and Kubrick directed the project himself. As is always the case with Kubrick at the helm, the final product is perhaps more striking than Lipsett’s work, while maintaining a witty, comedic air. The subliminal-messaging-esque text is perfect in its timing and the way it fills the entire frame. Taking lines from the film slightly outside of context to use as pseudo punchlines works really well, giving away as little as possible about some of the funniest moments in the film, while actually creating jokes not present in the film. The trailer really does feel like an early example of a mashup or remix.
Ultimately, the trailer is both innovative, yet representative of the period the film is set in. It tells you more about the film’s underlying context and style than about the plot or characters, which is what a trailer should do, yet most just give away the overarching plot and introduce all the characters, rendering the opening sequence and any suspenseful moments useless in the actual film.
Trailers have always been formulaic, and rare gems like these should remind us we can be innovative and borrow ideas from remixers and experimentalists to create something that conveys what the film is, not what it’s about.