Monday, September 17, 2018

Year of the Deer Here

A grown fawn and a doe near the bird feeders in the back garden.

A frequent occurrence this summer, a doe crosses my front yard.  I took this photo with my old iPad camera, which isn't really that good, but it was all I had with me at the time.

Another doe along the back garden, again taken with my iPad.

The best photo I have of two of the fawns.  It isn't very good, I know.  I just happened to look out my bathroom window as they crossed out of my woods into the yard.  The iPad focused on my window screen so the image of the fawns is blurry.  But this still gives you a sense of how magical it was to just happen upon all this deer action on my property this year. 
This was a banner year for deer activity on my property.  Deer are no stranger to my woods and land.  I have seen them many times through the years since 1993.  But, this year was different.  I think due to nearby residential development more of them are being pushed into relatively safe, natural areas, especially when rearing their young is involved.

Back in the early spring when I would walk my dog, Charlie, through the property it was common for him to be restless, sniffing at something in the air.  I would often look out into my then leafless trees and see nothing.  Then, suddenly, Charlie would charge a bit and start barking, making a big fuss.  Suddenly, my woods came alive with 12-15 deer who had carefully hidden themselves from view.  They were all over my woods, the most I had ever seen at once.  This happened on several occasions.

Later in the spring, a few of them would come into my back yard to graze on various things, including Jennifer's prize tulips, much to her dismay.  Three or four doe were the most common encounter but I did see a small six-point buck now and then.  The deer became quite comfortable being around my house, with only Charlie to scare them away, especially at night when my dog was indoors.

In late-spring I was on my mower headed to the lower field to mow when I stopped.  Right in the middle of my gravel driveway stood a doe nursing two fawns.  I haven't seen many twin fawns in my lifetime.  I stopped the mower, wishing I had a camera, and just watched until the mother and her babies moved along.  She paused behind a small brush pile I have down there and continued to nurse the twins even as I was mowing near her.

A few weeks later I was driving up my driveway after work and saw yet another set of twin fawns with their mother.  These were even younger, just born, with spots all over them.  I couldn't believe my luck.  Two sets of twins more or less born on my property in the same season!  A rare event indeed!

Try as I might, I was unable to capture a decent photo of the fawns or of any other deer actually.  They frequently appeared near the bird feeders in my back yard along the edge of one of the gardens.  Charlie went crazy when, while resting on a couch that abuts the den window opening to the back yard and garden, deer would appear, grazing.  Charlie growled and sank his nails into the window sill (already bearing the marks of previous freak-outs about cats or deer or whatever).  The deer remain rather bold even as of this posting.

The photos presented in this post are the best I have unfortunately.  The deer still appear practically every day but the fawns are now grown, the younger twins have few spots left at this point.  They are all safe, if a bit aggravating, on my property.  I don't allow hunting.  But come later this fall, when deer season opens, many of them won't survive.  They roam too far to be protected by my small amount land.

But that's just the way things work.  I like venison as much as anybody.  Some of these deer will end up in someone's freezer for the winter; a great time for stews and cubed steaks.  Still, it has been fun watching them and allowing them to experience some small ease at being safe on my land.  Some of them no longer fear me at all, they just watch me from a safe distance, as curious about me, perhaps, as I am fascinated by them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Watching The Shining

The bloody vision seen by Danny when he "shines" about the psychic past of the hotel.  This shot was used as part of the advertising campaign for the film.
“There’s something inherently wrong with the human personality.  There’s a evil side to it.  One of the things that horror stories can do is to show us the archetypes of the unconscious: we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly.  Also, ghost stories appeal to our craving for immortality.  If you can be afraid of a ghost, then you have to believe that a ghost may exist, and if a ghost exists, then oblivion might not be the end.” (Stanley Kubrick quoted by LoBrutto, page 412)

Stanley Kubrick had reason to become somewhat more "mainstream" following his artistically brilliant but financially lackluster Barry Lyndon.  That film did not live up to expectations about “the Stanley Kubrick brand” when compared with the financial success of Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey and even the initially X-rated A Clockwork Orange.  His decision to purchase the rights to Stephen King's The Shining made sense on a lot of levels.

“In choosing The Shining, he may have felt an understandable need to get back in touch with popular taste.  Barry Lyndon was by no means the commercial failure some alleged.  An usual film, to be sure, and a disappointment in America, yes; but it found its audience, and eventually its profit, in Europe.  With The Shining, Kubrick assumed the obligation that came with a subject presold on its author’s reputation: namely, to give people what they expected – yet to surprise them nonetheless.  It was the first time that a mass audience would know in advance – or think it did – what ‘a Stanley Kubrick film’ would be about.” (Walker, Taylor, Ruchti, page 275)

Kubrick would enjoy the automatic buzz-recognition that King's popular horror novel would bring to his next film.  The choice of this material would also entice Jack Nicholson, at the zenith of his career, to play the lead role.  Plus, a treatment of the horror genre in general would guarantee a dedicated young audience that would lead to financial success.  Although, like 2001 initially, The Shining disappointed most critics, the movie was popular and is yet another example of a Kubrick film that has gotten better with age.

Being a Kubrick film, the picture defies the expectations of those who want to watch a traditional horror movie.  Instead of scares and blood and gore (although those elements are certainly present) The Shining focuses more on realism and upon psychological elements of fear and madness.  The result is a uniquely frightful film, with a slow intense build, that is satisfying in the Kubrickian sense even if it disappointed Stephen King and among other horror movie fans.  (King said the movie was "a Cadillac without an engine.")

King's displeasure was fundamentally over a shift in the emphasis of the narrative.  “Nicholson was attracted to the family crisis in the Torrance family.  For Stephen King it was the backdrop to set off sparks in a haunted hotel.  For Kubrick and Nicholson, Jack Torrance’s personal demons and the fury he inflicted on his family were the true horror of the film.” (LoBrutto, page 431)
Danny talks to his 'psychic' imaginary friend 'Tony' about the hotel.  Tony doesn't want to go there but he won't tell Danny why.

The Overlook Hotel.  Its isolation is matched by its immense interior, forming a perfect metaphor for Jack's psychological struggle.
The first hour of the film splendidly establishes a sense of mystery and disorientation.  From the beginning, the horror is internalized.  We see this most prominently in Danny's (Danny Lloyd) interaction with his psychic friend 'Tony'.  It is an innocent enough childish pastime; an imaginary character to keep the lonely boy company.  But, there is a sinister quality to it.  Danny's voice is anything but playful when Tony speaks to him.  Tony is able to show (shine) Danny glimpses of the past and the future in relation to his family's off-season stay as caretakers of the Overlook Hotel.

Danny's father, Jack (Jack Nicholson – it is an interesting coincidence that the actors portraying Jack and Danny have the same first names as their roles), seems 'normal' enough at first, but he has a troubling background of drinking and possible child abuse, and a frustrating teaching career that grates on his nerves.  As soon as the family moves into the hotel, Jack feels strangely at ease and comfortable in the cavernous empty lodge with all its many past stories of crime, debauchery, and mayhem.   Living in the hotel works on Jack's psyche, a degeneration which takes place at a believable, gradually accelerating pace over the final two-thirds of the film.

Jack's wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), is the most difficult role in the film.  She has to be the 'normal' one, the foundation upon which the terror of everything is grounded, the one who has to exhibit the pathetic consequences of the hotel's effects upon her husband and son.  Kubrick was famous for handling Duvall roughly during the shoot.  He was more brutal with her than he had perhaps ever been with any other actor.  
Wendy is near hysteria over what is happening in the hotel.  Kubrick manipulated Shelley Duvall's performance with endless criticism and takes.  In this particular shot she truly is in a state of exhaustion.  This 'realism' helps 'sell' the movie to the audience.  A really strong performance.

Jack has lost it.  He threatens to 'bash' Wendy's head in.

The famous 'Redrum' scene.  It's murder spelled backwards.

Another wonderful job of acting by Duvall as Jack takes an axe to the locked bathroom door.  This, too, required bountiful takes.  60 doors were demolished while shooting this scene.
“Often Kubrick would whine.  ‘Shelley, that’s not it.  How long do we have to wait for you to get it right?’

“Kubrick maintained a psychological advantage over Shelley Duvall by making her feel she wasn’t giving him what he wanted – that she was holding everyone up.  Kubrick wanted Duvall to use this harassment for her role as Wendy, but the gentle-natured actress had an idiosyncratic style that didn’t flourish under personal pressure.  Kubrick felt Duvall was overreacting in the scene when she hides in the bathroom while Jack threatens to ax the door down.  ‘Shelley, the only part clearly wrong was at the end when you said ‘We’ve got to get him out of here.’  You got strong at the end and I think it has to be a last desperate begging and I still think you shouldn’t jump on every emphatic line.  It looks fake.  It really does.  Shelley, I’m telling you, it’s too many times, every time he speaks emphatically you’re jumping and it looks phoney.’ Duvall tried to have an impact on the lines, changing them to suit her interpretation of the character. ‘I honestly don’t think the lines are going to make an awful lot of difference if you get the right attitude,’ Kubrick told Duvall.  ‘I think you’re worrying about the wrong thing.’ Kubrick continued to work on the attitude by maintaining pressure on the actress to portray true nervousness and fear in her situation.” (LoBrutto, page 441) 

Part of this was because Kubrick held such high expectations for Duvall's performance.  Part of it was because he needed that performance to sell the film to the audience.  If Wendy's existential crisis doesn't feel real then the entire film will collapse on itself.

But The Shining does not collapse, quite the opposite.  Duvall's performance becomes stronger and more relatable as the film unfolds.  In fact, I would argue that the performances delivered by the three primary actors, as well as several extras including Scatman Crothers, represent the best direction of acting in Kubrick's multifaceted catalog.  This high quality acting allows the film to develop on a strong intellectual foundation before it gradually disintegrates into the chaos and, ultimately, into violent insanity.

To capture the performances he needed and to experiment with a range of emotional responses from each actor, Kubrick often shot a ridiculous number of takes; often 30-40 for each scene, sometimes over 100 takes, as many as 148 of one scene(!).
Jack meets Grady, a psychic aberration of the former caretaker, in a wonderful scene shot inside a red bathroom.

Scatman Crothers and Danny Lloyd in an important scene where 'shining' is explained.  Kubrick shot an unbelievable 148 takes of this one! 
“The large take ratio allowed Kubrick to create a library of character reactions and emotions for any given shot.  As the takes stacked up, Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall began to move through a range of emotions from catatonia to hysteria.  Kubrick earned the power to make films the way he wanted to make them.  The way Stanley Kubrick made films gave him a myriad of choices all during the process until he signed off the release print to Warner Brothers distribution.

“A day’s output could be one scene of one shot.  Extensive lighting tests were done before Kubrick would even begin shooting.  Kubrick persisted until he felt he had gotten everything out of a scene that was there to get.  He didn’t begin with a preconceived idea but found what he was searching for in a series of methodical steps and inquiries as he pursued the shot.” (LoBrutto, page 424)

“Kubrick’s method of shooting take after take took its toll on the sixty-nine-year-old Scatman Crothers.  On particular shot of the scene in the kitchen between Danny and Halloran discussing the shining ran up to 148 takes.  This was one camera position and didn’t include the extensive coverage and high take ratio that Kubrick got on other angles of the same scenes.  The single shot ran for seven minutes and Kubrick printed every single take.” (LoBrutto, page 430)

“’Kubrick likes to do many takes.  Jack Nicholson told me that on The Shining, Stanley sometimes did seventy or eighty takes on a set-up.’ John Boorman wrote in The Emerald Forest Diary.  ‘When I saw the film I could see what Kubrick had been up to.  He was trying to get performances that came out of extremity, exhaustion.’” (LoBrutto, page 431)

Whereas in his novel, King used a traditional horror genre technique of storytelling (paranormal spirits expressing themselves through inanimate objects, for example), Kubrick relied upon the development of psychological tension, both in his actors and with his audience.  The Shining is far more mentally disorienting and intense than it is scary.  The horror in The Shining is not so much an immediate scare (although there are a couple of those) as it is a build-up in the viewer's psyche that will be difficult to shake off after watching the movie.  

This fundamental change in tone and focus from straight paranormal horror to psychotic terror distressed King and many of his followers.  As I mentioned before, they had expectations that the film would follow the novel.  But, as usual with Kubrick, the director took a different path, throwing out conventions about the novel and genre, in order to explore the terrifying aspects of how madness works.  This exploration was edited down, again like 2001, after the initial premieres, further eroding aspects of the novel.

“Such reductivism transformed King’s horror story into Kubrick philosophical fantasy and displaced the principal interest from man’s extinction to man’s immortality….Kubrick eventually shortened the 146-minute running time of its New York premiere by twenty-seven minutes.  He had two minutes removed during the first weeks of the U.S. run, and a further twenty-five minutes before the London opening.  These cuts reveal his mode of working and thinking, testing, twisting, and transmogrifying King’s horror story to reflect his own stylistic and enigmatic preoccupations.” (Walker, Taylor, Ruchti, page 281)
Jack and Wendy shot from underneath the writing desk.  Jack tells her he thinks he is losing his mind.

Jack is 'working' for weeks on his typewriter before Wendy discovers that he is simply typing the same line over and over and over in different spacing and margin variations.  This scene is surprisingly effective when watching the film. 
“…no allusions to his background, or his failure as a teacher, nor any mention of the ‘accursed’ hotel’s long, ill-omened history other than the incident of the murders by the former caretaker, survived Kubrick’s postrelease cuts.  He retained only a single reference to the hotel’s being built on scared Native American burial ground, preparing us for acts of justifiable vengeance by ethical spirits, and conforming to Stephen King’s preference for imbuing inanimate objects with a malign life of their own.  In the film, however, this proves a false trail, leading nowhere.  Originally, Torrance was to stumble upon a scrapbook chronicling decades of ‘evil’ at the Overlook – newspaper clippings about mishaps and catastrophes great and small: fires, murders, suicides, sexual and financial scandals.  This, too, was eliminated, though the scrapbook can still be seen on Torrance’s table where he sits, a blocked writer, crazily typing and retyping ad infinitum the same one line maxim: ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’” (Walker, Taylor, Ruchti, page 284)

“In almost every respect, Kubrick’s The Shining challenges both an audience’s expectations and its conceptual understanding of narrative events in ways that King’s novel rarely does.  In the early scenes, Kubrick develops Jack’s character from a deceptively ‘objective’ point of view, except for the moment when Jack ‘shines’ over a model in the reception area of the hedge maze and the camera (from Jack’s perspective) slowly zooms down upon the tiny figures of Wendy and Danny arriving in the center of the ‘real’ hedge maze outside.  Before his first conversation with Lloyd that bartender (Joe Turkle), Jack’s interiority remains largely a mystery (in marked contrast to the novel’s method), as the film requires the audience to ‘shine’ by interpreting his character either through Danny’s subjectivity or other visual details.” (Nelson, page 202)

One of the many prominent themes in The Shining involves the hedge labyrinth on the hotel grounds.  “In The Shining, the maze concept encompasses the film thematically and aesthetically (i.e., both within the film itself and with respect to the audience watching it).  It not only helps explain Jack’s madness (this is, the unconscious labyrinth in which the conscious self gets lost) but inspires the Overlook’s floor plan and d├ęcor (for instance, the maze pattern in the carpet outside room 237), as well as the events that occur there.  In addition, the film contains a maze-within-a-maze (the model inside the hotel) that doubles with the ‘real’ maze outside.  Significantly, Jack wants to stay inside the hotel’s maze rather than explore the surroundings (after closing day, he is not seen outside until the final chase through the snow into the hedge maze), to control its center (the Colorado Lounge) like a madly inspired God writing his book of creation….Within the maze-like designs of The Shining, Kubrick develops a series of doubling/mirroring effects that go far beyond anything found in King’s novel.” (Nelson, pp. 204-205)
When Jack first meets Lloyd the bartender the large hotel lounge is empty.

Later the lounge is filled with people, music and activity from the 1920's, reflecting Jack's further descent into madness and the psychic past of the hotel. 
“Notice how the progression of events goes from months to days to hours, a process of reduction and intensification that moves toward a single moment in time when insanity breaks loose from the restraints of rational order.  As he did so often in other films, Kubrick undermines that audience’s faith in the narrative machinery of exposition – and its cause/effect logic – by, first, establishing its credibility through a realistic, matter-of-fact style (in part one), only to confuse that understanding by transforming it into a memory as faint or illusionary as Jack’s mad quest for the immortality of death.  By parts two and three, the periodic screen-titles conform to an associative or symbolic logic, to the film’s complex patterns of doubling and reversal (i.e., the every-other-day quality of “Tuesday”/ Thursday,” etc., or the movement from ‘8 am’ to ‘4 pm’), which inevitably mock our desire for temporal sense and rational sequence.” (Nelson, pp. 208-209)

“In two key scenes, Jack’s menacing, godlike isolation inside the hotel opposes Wendy and Danny’s spirit of outside play and exploration.  In the first, he shines over the model maze as they playfully race into the hedge maze and experience its confusion (indicated to the audience by the dizzying motions of the Steadicam). In the second scene Wendy and Danny play in the snow below Jack, who, with the sand painting prominent in the background, grins and stares in a hypnotic, slack-jawed trance from the second-floor window in the Colorado Lounge.  As the snowdrifts increase outside, the Torrance family becomes more isolated inside as normal communication breaks down.  Jack sits in the empty but symmetrical ‘center’ of the Overlook, where he reads the scrapbook and translates its collective unconscious into the idiom of his private unconscious; Danny rides his Big Wheel through narrow corridors and sees bloody visions showing the monsters being reborn inside his father’s mind;  and Wendy tries, with little success, to fight off her loneliness through contacts with the outside world (she watches TV and uses her radio transmitter to say ‘hello’ to a fire-station ranger).” (Nelson, pp. 217-219)

“But, aesthetically, the maze concept requires that an audience be tested and challenged, even to the point of confusion if it fails to shine and remember not only how it got into the film (i.e. guided tours of narrative exposition) but how it got lost.  In retracing those steps, the viewer might discover that it wasn’t Kubrick’s The Shining that betrayed him, but rather all those false expectations that tyrannize audiences into believing that filmic understandings should follow straight paths into a center of meaning.” (Nelson, page 225)

The Shining was one of the first films to employ the Steadicam.  Kubrick was fascinated, of course, with the flexibility this new technology afforded.  It was used liberally throughout the film to let the viewer experience marvelous extended shots of moving through the space of the hotel, or through a specific doorway into a room, up and down stairways, or around the hedge maze.  Psychologically, these shots help immerse the viewer even further into the narrative by moving with the actors in what was a novel cinematic experience at the time.  Kubrick, as usual, was a master of the technology.  He never overuses it and when the Steadicam is employed it is always to marvelous effect.

As always, Kubrick's musical selections are superb, particularly with his use of modern classical compositions by Penderecki and Ligeti.  It is sometimes difficult to believe that what we are listening to was not composed specifically for the film but, rather, is just another brilliant musical choice made by Kubrick.  The opening titles use an original score by Wendy Carlos (who also worked with Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange) which creates some of the creepiest opening credits ever in cinema.  Carlos’ synthesized score is unsettling and foreboding and sets up a certain amount of anxious tension before anything has even happened in the film.  This, of course, is intentional.  Kubrick wants the audience to intimately experience Jack's mental volatility.  The director's masterful music choices are a gateway to the film's horror that connects the audience with the film and, more importantly, allows the film to emotionally affect the viewer. 

The Shining was one of Kubrick’s most commercially successful films.  Despite a majority of negative reviews, the film opened strong in New York and Los Angeles over the Memorial Day weekend.  Terry Semel, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Warner Brothers…called the film ‘the biggest opening our company has ever had in New York and Los Angeles.  It’s bigger than The Exorcist, bigger than Superman.’  The ad campaign, the summer timing, and the marquee value of Jack Nicholson carried the film against a slew of bad reviews….Good box office did not help The Shining at the Academy Awards.  The film was the first Kubrick picture not to have received any Academy Award nominations in twenty-three years.  The last Kubrick film to have been snubbed by the Academy was Paths of Glory.” (LoBrutto, page 452) 

The Shining is one of Kubrick's best efforts and I feel it is probably the greatest movie of its kind ever made (also ranked highly by movie-goers).  I waver between giving it a 9 or a 10 on my scale. It is not really a horror movie as we have come to expect from the Halloween or Friday the 13th or the Saw series'.  Rather, The Shining is a unique film, a psychological drama where the internal space of the human mind is shown to be as vast as the hotel interior and as complex as the famous hedge maze on the grounds.  It effectively takes a sinister undertone, brings it to a slow boil, and then unleashes the full violence of its tension.  The film might not make you (frequently) scream or gasp, but it will haunt you in a far worse way, resonating in your mind long after you thought you were over it. 
The closing shot.  Jack is in a photo taken at the hotel in 1921.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Atlanta Campaign Ends

Note:  This is the final installment of my high level overview of the Atlanta Campaign which I began back in May.

The situation west of Atlanta on August 28, 1864.  Sherman has disengaged from the city except along the trench line at East Point.  A large force under Thomas and Howard is concentrated for a bold move south to cut the Macon and Western Railroad, the lifeline to Hood's army.  Hood has suspicions but no clear idea what is about to happen.

August 31.  Sherman's troops are assembled along an 8-mile front to attack the rail road.  Hood has hastily dispersed his infantry and handful of cavalry to protect the rail line.  He correctly thinks that Sherman will attack at Jonesboro, but he fails to realize the threat is much more widespread than that.  Hood's attacks at Jonesboro will be pointless as most of the Union forces are positioned further north.  Atlanta is doomed.  
President Abraham Lincoln was worried.  The Union armies and navy had won many victories during the American Civil War, had almost completely blockaded the Southern Confederacy from the outside world, but the South remained defiant.  In the North the war was becoming increasingly unpopular, draft riots dotted Northern cities, particularly in New York City.  A peace movement was gaining momentum and favored Lincoln's defeat in the upcoming November elections.  

In August 1864, Lincoln felted he would lose in November.  In the far west, the Red River Campaign had ended in Northern defeat.  In Virginia, the toll of Federal casualties as Grant battled Lee in the Overland Campaign was appalling, tens of thousands in a few weeks.  Everywhere there seemed to be defeat or stalemate and the population grew weary of a fight that had no end in sight.

Sherman was before the gates of Atlanta but had so far failed to capture the city.  This too contributed to the general malaise among the North and to Lincoln's discontent.  Although his combined armies had repulsed Hood's aggressive attacks, Sherman could not see how he could capture the prize city under the present circumstances.  The city's fortifications were too strong for a frontal assault.  He held hopes that his cavalry could break the deadlock.

For most of August, the campaign shifted from the one of maneuver to a form of trench warfare that anticipated World War One.  Hood's forces remained badly outnumbered, especially in light of his battle losses during the second half of July.  But the Army of Tennessee was still strong enough to man the trenches, fully capable of repulsing the most concentrated Union attack.  Hood had a trickle of new recruits and recovering veterans wounded earlier in the campaign rejoining the Southern ranks.  His numbers improved, if slightly.

Sherman knew better than to attempt to storm the city.  And he could not isolate it without risking another concentrated Rebel attack against some weakness in his line that total siege would require.  Instead, he sent Generals Garrard, McCook, Stoneman and Kilpatrick on a series of separate raids with the intent to cut all rail lines and communications into Atlanta, thereby, it was hoped, forcing Hood to surrender the city or lose his army.   

It will be recalled that Sherman sent Garrard to the east back in July to destroy the rail line to Augusta.  The Yankee cavalry raid managed to tear up a few miles of rail, effectively ending that route of supply.  But this had little effect on Hood's army.  Almost all supplies came from Jonesboro to the south along the Macon and Western Railroad.  Next, Sherman ordered McCook and Stoneman to attack that route.  This resulted in a several miles of railway being destroyed, but the Rebels had it repaired in two days.  In mid-August, Sherman sent out Kilpatrick (augmented with Garrard’s troops) on a similar raid that was also unsuccessful.

All the while, Sherman's infantry laid siege to Atlanta.  He brought up his heavy artillery and pounded the city on a daily basis throughout August.  This resulted in a lot of property damage but few deaths.  It is estimated that that maybe as many as 100 civilians were killed or wounded as a result of these weeks of bombardment.  Time was ticking, Lincoln was worried, and Sherman was growing impatient.

Having failed to defeat the Federal advance on the battlefield, Hood ordered a cavalry raid of his own with the idea of cutting Sherman’s long logistical line back to Chattanooga.  He entrusted General Wheeler with over half of the Confederate cavalry to the task.  Wheeler managed to destroy rail lines at Big Shanty and much further north at Resaca.  On August 14, the cavalry captured Dalton, where the campaign began.  Again, a few more miles of track were dismantled.  A herd of over 1,000 cattle was captured and sent back toward Hood’s army in Atlanta.

But, as with the Federal cavalry raids, nothing much came of the rail destruction; Union engineer teams had everything repaired in a matter of days.  So a total of five cavalry raids (four Union and one Confederate) resulted in no ill effects on either army.  The infantry of both sides remained in place and, except for some minor inconvenience, remained supplied.  The siege of Atlanta continued.

Wheeler’s raid north came at a cost.  The Rebels had insufficient cavalry remaining around Atlanta to monitor the Yankee activity the way it had done so effectively for Hood in July to set up his battles (that this resulted in three Southern defeats was not Wheeler’s fault, the opportunities were real and Union marches were well known.)  The last of the four Union raids (Kilpatrick’s) went virtually unchallenged.  Moreover, what Sherman decided to do next with his infantry went undetected until it was too late. 

For weeks, Sherman had pushed his armies around the west side of Atlanta.  At first he tried to cut the rail line south at East Point but Hood successfully lengthened his entrenchments about seven miles southwest of the city and halted the probing Union infantry in sometimes heavy skirmishing.  Then Sherman made a bold decision.  He would end the siege, disengage completely from Atlanta, place a strong but token force at key crossings along the Chattahoochee River, while maintaining pressure on East Point with Schofield’s army and General Jefferson Davis’ XIV Corps.

Then he concentrated the rest of the Army of the Cumberland and all of the Army of the Tennessee (a total of about 37,000 troops), about five miles west of East Point.  He ordered this force under Generals Thomas and Howard to swing far to the south of East Point.  It was a risky maneuver, but Sherman was banking that Wheeler’s absence would partially blind and confuse the Army of Tennessee.

Hood had no clue what was happening.  Probes along the north trench line of Atlanta on August 26 revealed the Federal’s were gone.  That day marked the first in weeks that Union siege artillery did not fire upon the city.  At first, he thought Wheeler’s raid had succeeded and that Sherman was withdrawing north of the Chattahoochee.  The next day, Confederate cavalry reported Union infantry marching southwest of the city, but in what direction and in what strength?  Hood strengthened East Point and Rough and Ready, a small town five miles further south along the Macon and Western Railroad.  Two southern brigades were sent as far as Jonesboro – just in case.

Sherman’s infantry took time to destroy 12 miles of the Atlanta and West Point Railroad as they marched south.  That line led back toward Alabama and was scarcely used anyway.  On August 29, Schofield’s Army of the Ohio and Davis’ corps (about 25,000 troops altogether) withdrew from Atlanta as well, swinging further west then south.  Knowing that Sherman seemed to want to cut the rail line somewhere, Hood left only General Samuel French’s division and the Georgia Militia to defend the city.  The rest of his army was scattered all along the Macon and Western Railroad, not knowing exactly where the Union forces would concentrate (and without adequate cavalry to answer that question.)

Sherman now had almost 60,000 troops on the move subsisting entirely from vast wagon trains carrying abundant supplies. Two-thirds of this infantry fanned out west of the Flint River, parallel to the Macon and Western.  The other third was ordered toward Jonesboro. On August 31, the Union advanced all along this front.  By now Hood had shifted the bulk of his forces under Generals Hardee and Lee towards Jonesboro.  Union General Jacob Cox’s division advanced upon Marrow’s Station about four miles north of Jonesboro and met no opposition.  His troops easily struck the Macon and Western and severed the lifeline to Atlanta.
Hood finally feared the worst and ordered the ordinance trains in Atlanta to take the rail south.  But these had to return to the city in reverse when they found the rail line cut.  Hardee and Lee were ordered to attack the Union concentration west of Jonesboro in an attempt to save the rail connection.  None of the Confederate commanders knew until too late that the attack was pointless, as communications had already been cut.  The Battle of Jonesboro was a decisive Confederate defeat anyway and a fitting end to the campaign.  The Confederate attack was made in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Hood blew up his ammunition trains and abandoned Atlanta on September 1.  He would cobble together enough of an army at Lovejoy Station to make a stand, but Sherman was not really interested enough to pursue him further.  The North had won a grand prize in time for the November elections.  The Democrats would nominate former Union General George C. McClellan shortly after Atlanta’s fall.  Lincoln easily defeated him a few weeks later as Northern morale rose with Sherman’s victory.

Before the election, Hood switched bases of supply from Lovejoy Station to Palmetto.  He would dare to raid northward with his smaller army, where he had sent Wheeler in August.  An small but intense battle took place as part of this raid at Allatoona Pass.  A couple of weeks later the Army of Tennessee was again at Resaca and Dalton, tearing up the rail road.  But by now Sherman had amassed a huge surplus of logistics in and around Atlanta.  The Yankees had no reason to be too concerned with Hood’s movements, the many fortified Northern rail station garrisons held firm and their cavalry probed Hood every step of the way.  Eventually, Hood would retire to a railroad still under Confederate control in Alabama and plot his failed raid into Tennessee.

As supplies were amassed at Atlanta, Sherman at first decided to give chase to Hood, but soon retired and let the Confederates go.  They were of no consequence to his next plan.  He would fill his wagon trains to capacity and burn anything he couldn’t carry.  The resulting fire got out of control and much of the city burned. Sherman then ordered Atlanta abandoned and marched his entire army toward the Georgia coast, to establish a new base of supply at Savannah via the Union’s enormous naval shipping instead of rail lines.  When the supplies ran out, his command of about 60,000 men subsisted off of whatever they could find, freely confiscating crops and cattle.

Savannah would become a Christmas gift from Sherman to Lincoln.  Meanwhile Hood’s army would be decimated in the pointless battles of Franklin and Nashville.  This effectively ended large scale battles for the western theater of the war. 

Atlanta was an important transportation hub but, moreover, in the summer 1864 it had become a symbol.  Its fall (along with the fall of Mobile Bay) is widely attributed as being highly favorable to Lincoln's reelection.  The counter argument that a perpetual siege of Atlanta might have resulted in close defeat for Lincoln is not implausible.  It is less likely, however, that the North would have sued for peace had McClellan won despite the civil unrest there.  The majority in the North favored peace but only with the Union intact.     

Altogether, almost 70,000 men were killed or wounded from May through August. Though the Confederates won a number of smaller battles (Dug’s Gap, New Hope Church, Pickett’s Mill) the large victory eluded them.  Kennesaw Mountain was their greatest success but it proved inconsequential.  The large Battle of Resaca was a draw.  The Battle of Atlanta, the largest of the campaign, was a Southern defeat. Sherman maneuvered his armies boldly and with great imagination as long as there wasn’t a battle being fought.  Then he seemed impetuous.  While in command, Johnston was practical and cautious though he showed a troublesome lack of strategic understanding in the opening of the campaign.  Hood attacked and attacked and attacked, attempting to hit the Yankees in their flank, failing every time either due to misfortunate or unaffordable Confederate delays.

The Atlanta Campaign compares favorably with other great campaigns of the War Between the States.  In my opinion, the Gettysburg Campaign and the Vicksburg Campaign are two equally important military endeavors of the war, possibly the most important.  And Lee against Grant in the Overland Campaign is also worthy of consideration.  But I would put Atlanta in the company of these others.  To me it was a badly needed win where a stalemate or a loss would have greatly harmed the Union cause.  I have lived in the area of the Atlanta Campaign all my life; a rich and enjoyable lifelong interest of study and debate. I’m lucky in that regard.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Historic Bull Market

Yesterday the current stock market made history by becoming the longest-running bull market in history.  The US economy is proving stronger than all the many headwinds that might threaten it.  All this despite the fact that the Dow recently registered its longest streak in "correction" territory in 60 years.  Also noteworthy is the fact that the US manufacturing index is at a nine-month low.

It seems counter-intuitive.  Even whether or not this is the longest bull market is questionable. Barron's, not exactly a  liberal journal, makes a strong case that this isn't the longest bull market at all.  This chart indicates that there were four previous bull markets with a duration in excess of 12 years and our bull market is only 9+ years thus far.  In some ways the present bullish run isn't that exceptional at all.

In truth it doesn't matter.  This bull market is strong in itself and compared with history (see these interesting comparison articles here and here and here and here).  There are a lot of people making a lot of money in their retirement accounts and otherwise recently.  Even though the bull run started in President Obama's first year in office (2009) the strong economy and bullish stock markets are a big "win" for Donald Trump.  I keep hearing the word "Trumponomics" used over and over again by people I talk to.  The cult of Trump engulfs the entire American economic surge as if he were personally responsible for all of it, which he is not.  Regardless, Trump benefits from the strong economy as much as the average investor, if not more so.

My own exposure to this rising tide has been cautiously minimal, though I have increased my positions in various mutual funds over the past 12 months.  I am dollar cost averaging in at the moment but not that much as the longevity of the market also makes its correction more imminent.

But my previous interpretation that the market correction that began in February might be a harbinger of a bear market was probably premature.  It seems that this bull still has a lot of legs under it and could run to record levels by the end of the year.  I am comfortable with my market exposure at this time.  Things seem to be going great for the economy.

But all is not well.  According to Forbes our "real economy" isn't booming at all.  12% of employed Americans are considered "poor" even though they have a job.  Healthcare costs are predicted to rise 20% in the next year, which will put a strain on both employees and employers.  Credit card debt has fueled much of the economic growth but it is now reaching the upper limits of servicing the debt - at over $1 trillion.  College student debt tops even credit card debt.  

Perhaps most importantly, wage growth in the US is at an anemic 2.9% annually.  It is difficult to see how the American consumer can continue recent spending patterns, dramatically increasing personal debt,  with such low wage growth.  Debt is rising at a far greater rate than income.  That is obviously unsustainable, even if the tipping point still lies in the future.

Traditionally, I have relied upon Dow Theory to determine where we are in terms of investing in the markets.  But recently I came across an article that shows another metric that I am now taking seriously, given its excellent historical record.

This involves subtracting the 2-year treasury rate from the 10-year treasury.  I have read about this useful comparison before but only recently paid closer attention to it.  The St. Louis Federal Reserve tracks this in an interactive map available on their website.  This graph shows that every economic recession going back to 1980 has been proceeded by higher short-term rates than long-term rates.  Here are some screenshots of examples:

This shows two recessions (gray areas) from the early 1980's.  Notice how the treasury comparison turns negative in 1978, predating the onset of the recession by about 18 months.  It rallied briefly but turned negative again in 1980.  The second recession followed about nine months later.  The comparison turns positive again during the recession, signaling that the overall economic downturn will end. 

The comparison remained positive for about 7 years until it once again registered negative around the beginning of 1989, a harbinger of the 1990 recession which again started about 18 months later.

The 2001 recession was preceded by a negative downturn in the treasury comparison in early 2000. 

The Great Recession was preceded by the comparison skipping along negative territory in 2006 and 2007.

This is the present trend since 2013.  We are obviously headed toward negative territory again.  The only questions are how long will it take to get there and how far off will the recession be once the graph turns negative again.
According to this graph, we are nearing (but not yet close) to a recession.  It should be noted that even when the graph turns negative it could take over a year for a recession to actually occur.  I'm fairly sure this is one indicator economists look at when peering into the murky crystal ball of economic prediction.  And the present trajectory is in line with Ben Bernanke's recent prediction of a recession in 2020.

So, even though the specifics of short-term economic growth seem positive and the markets might not act as robustly as investors have come to expect post-2009 or during the first year of the Trump presidency, it looks overall as if investors are safe maintaining their positions for the next few months.

Whether nor not this bull market is truly historic in terms of its longevity, it nevertheless displays solid strength and likely will continue to make money for investors probably beyond 2018.  This is a positive sign for those of us creating wealth through investment (even though I failed to leverage in as much as I should have in hindsight).  Despite the politics of the situation, the markets are doing what they are supposed to do; balancing out certainty and uncertainty, discounting negative factors that are relevant while rallying on factors that seem important.

I will bet on the action of the 10-year and 2-year treasuries and conclude there is still money to be made, regardless of the conflicting news and data we are exposed to every day. No one knows for sure what is going to happen, including me.  I am cautious.  But according to the treasury metric, things should remain more positive than negative for months to come.

Late Note: Strictly in terms of Dow Theory, the Dow Transports reached an all-time two days ago.  Since then they have backed off a bit.  The Dow Industrial Average is near the all-time high it reached back in January.  Likewise it backed off the last two sessions.  If the Industrials can match the new high of the Transports then we will have a Dow Theory Bull confirmation.  Until that happens, this correction remains in force (according to Dow Theory) and the bullishness is in question.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Watching Dr. Strangelove

Even the film's opening title sequence is unique and famous.
One thing leads to another.  My recent reading of Michael Benson's book on the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey led me to want to re-watch that film.  But I haven't gotten around to that yet.  Instead, I renewed interest in Dr. Strangelove.  Benson makes clear that the success of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film paved the way for the creative independence and boldness that made 2001.  This is a review of Kubrick's satirical film with some added perspectives about the movie by a few of the director's biographers.  This post assumes you have already seen the motion picture.

When Kubrick completed Lolita in 1962, his mind was already preoccupied with the nuclear arms race and the concept of thermonuclear war.  This was at the height of the Cold War and the topic was pretty much in the back of every American's mind.  Nuclear war seemed a genuine possibility.  The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had occurred only 17 years earlier.  Nuclear testing in the US and the Soviet Union was a daily news item. 

Characteristically, Kubrick read everything he could get his hands on about the subject and eventually paid $3,500 for the screen rights to Red Alert, a novel about a military officer going rogue and ordering a military strike on the Soviet Union.  Kubrick immediately started working on a dramatic screenplay based on the novel. But, in happenstance and due to Kubrick’s expansive sense of humor, the long hours of writing often turned into late-night comical conversations.

While the screenplay slowly evolved in 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis gripped the nation. Shortly thereafter, Kubrick made the fundamental decision to accentuate the comic rather than the tragic nature of the subject matter.  He felt that a satire would be a far more entertaining approach.  With that, he turned to writer Terry Southern to help develop satirical elements for the narrative. 

Kubrick originally wanted to shoot the picture in Los Angeles, but ultimately decided to film at Shepperton Studios in the United Kingdom.  Southern flew there and worked for two months with Kubrick hammering out a script that intentionally pushed the nature of the subject as far into the absurd as either thought it should go while maintaining realism and cohesion, totally believable.

The War Room, one of the most famous sets in cinematic history.
Set construction began in 1963 shortly before the screenplay was completed.  This included the famous “War Room” where much of the movie takes place.  The dimensions for this set were massive: 130-feet long, 100-feet wide, and 35-feet high. Designers also constructed a highly-detailed "educated guess" at what the interior of a B-52 bomber might look like.  At the time such information was classified but air force officials were stunned by how close Kubrick’s set team came to the appearance of the actual cockpit of the bomber.  It was so realistic that Kubrick verified his designers had obtained their ideas totally through public information.

To heighten the sense of realism a large number of photographs and filmed shots were made of Greenland and Iceland, representing terrain over the Soviet Union in which the B-52 in the film was supposed to be flying.  A model of a B-52 was used with front-projection for establishing the flight scenes.  From inside the cockpit, images were front-projected for each particular view of the plane, right-side, left-side, whatever. 

Kubrick was pleased that Peter Sellers, who played multiple roles under his direction in Lolita, agreed to play several different roles in the film.  Much of Sellers’ work in the film was unscripted; improvised between Kubrick and himself on the set.  Several days were spent shooting Sellers portraying US President Merkin Muffley as having a bad cold and constantly needing a nasal inhaler.   This led to some side-splittingly humorous shoots, with Sellers' gigantic wit running wild.  But Kubrick had to rein all that back.  The director decided that his film needed Sellers to play the president more sincerely in order to give the rest of the satire a grounded stability.  
Peter Sellers brilliantly portrayed a US president, a Nazi scientist, and a British colonel in the film.
There is little trace of Sellers’ original performance in the final film except for a shot of him folding a handkerchief when he is first introduced to the viewer. Nevertheless, Sellers still managed to almost steal the show with his portrayal of the president with comical improvisations that bubbled-up from the restrictions of playing the character (mostly) seriously.  This, of course, was one of the great advantages of working inside a dark comedy.  Click this scene to see a superb example of that.

George C. Scott is animated by the thought of how the B-52 can avoid detection and successfully strike its target, something that could trigger the end of the world.
Kubrick knew from the beginning that he would need a strong actor to portray the other star of the War Room scenes, General Buck Turgidson.  George C. Scott had the acting chops to match Sellers, though in a different way than Sellers, which allowed Dr. Strangelove to actually explore various styles of comedy inside the satire.  Scott and Kubrick played many games of chess in between takes, with Kubrick always winning.  Many critics believe that Kubrick used chess as a means to better control Scott's acting.  Kubrick constantly pushed Scott to go over-the-top in his performance, some of which were slapstick in nature.  Scott later did not care for how Kubrick cut his performance into the film.  He disliked the fact that Kubrick almost always chose the most outlandish takes from Scott.

Scott and Kubrick playing chess in the War Room.
Sellers also played the role of a British Colonel Lionel Mandrake, attached to the crazy US Colonel Jack D. Ripper (wonderfully played by Sterling Hayden, who worked with Kubrick on The Killing).  This Sellers role was closer to how the actor would later portray Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films, not as bumbling as that but depicted in situations that are every bit as absurd.  Finally, he was cast as Dr. Strangelove himself, another unique and incredible performance that comes only near the end of the film.

Kubrick wanted Sellers to play a fourth role, that of Major T.J. "King" Kong, the commander of the B-52.  Sellers actually shot a couple of takes as Major Kong before breaking his leg in an accident on the set, apparently as a result of arguing with Kubrick about a shot.  This was one reason the character of Dr. Strangelove was depicted in a wheelchair in the film (those scenes were shot after the break).  Kubrick was suddenly in a bind. 

The resolution came with the auspicious signing of Slim Pickens to play Kong.  While it is extraordinary that Sellers had the opportunity to play four major roles in Dr. Strangelove, it is also impossible to imagine this film without the performance that Pickens brings.  Pickens' natural quirky character, simply playing his western cowboy style self, added yet another comical dimension to the satire.  Pickens carried the weight of the B-52 scenes, and brought balance to the narrative as it switches from the bomber to the crazy colonel’s base to the War Room.

Dr. Strangelove is among the most brilliantly conceived and executed postwar films, as original as its maker and hard to categorize.  The quality of its ideas and the speculations they set up in the appalled mind are extended and transformed into so many various characters and evolving climaxes, so many ironic connections with man’s generative urge to destroy himself, that the film demands to be approached from not just one point of view but many – farcical, semantic, factual, surreal, nuclear.  Yet like all truly great works, it gives an impression of perfect portions.  Nothing is excessive.  All is there for precise effect.  All the ideas are so surely elaborated and absorbed into the wit of its writing and the superbly differentiated performances and then follow them through so logically that any tactical novelties of the plot can be accommodated so long as they fit in his predetermined strategy.” (Walker, Taylor, Ruchti) pp. 157-158)

The film is an aesthetic masterpiece.  It is dark and edgy but also absurd and silly. When Colonel Ripper orders the bombers to attack he does so out of concern over the Communist threat to “our precious bodily fluids.” When the president calls Soviet Premier Kissoff, the Russian leader must discuss possible nuclear annihilation while he is drunk and with a woman.  When Major Kong attempts to dislodge a jammed nuclear bomb he ends up, famously, riding the device all the way down to its explosion over the target.

Kubrick directing on the the film's combat scenes.
There is sophistication here, of course.  After all, this is a Stanley Kubrick film.  The sets are highly detailed, every aspect of picture looks and feels realistic.  All the humor rests on a bed of rock-solid validity.  All black comedy is automatically a complex mix of intense or dangerous circumstances with funny lines and behaviors. Dr. Strangelove is perhaps the best example of this genre. While Scott (pushed by Kubrick) served as the clown of the film, Sellers as the president, offered straight humor, Sellers as the British colonel is Monty Python-like, Sellers as Dr. Strangelove is an outlandish Nazi, and Slim Pickens, being more or less himself, is naturally over-the-top. Dr. Strangelove offers a rich mix of humor. 

That was not obvious at the time the film was shown to its producers and this led to several major edits in the film, including Kubrick completely changing how it ends.
“When Dr. Strangelove was screened for executives at Columbia Pictures, the reaction was far from enthusiastic.  Vice president in charge of production Mike Frankovich, the adopted son of comedian Joe E. Brown, and his wife, actress Binnie Barnes, were distressed when the lights came up in the studio screening room after they had just watched a comedy about the destruction of the earth.  Frankovich found the film unshowable, a disgrace to Columbia Pictures.

“It certainly didn’t help that at the time the film contained a sequence inspired by great screen comedians.  Throughout the film the War Room sported a buffet table filled with fine food.  Also on that table was a series of creamy custard pies.  The Russian Ambassador grabs a pie and throws it.  The pie misses its target and hits the President squarely in the face.  In the great tradition of pie-throwing sequences, pandemonium breaks out and the custard flies across the War Room, leaving everybody covered with cream….The sequence took nearly two weeks to shoot.

“Kubrick eventually decided to take out the pie-throwing sequence, telling Gene Phillips, ‘It was too farcical and not consistent with the satric tone of the rest of the film.’” (LoBrutto, pp. 245-247)

As with other Kubrick films, all of the outtakes were either destroyed or protected from the public by the British Film Institute - including all the footage shot of Sellers playing President Muffley with a nasal inhaler.  All that publicly remains of the pie-throwing scene today are a few photographs.

Dr. Strangelove explores several themes, but one strong, underlying current is sexuality.  It is nothing new for Kubrick to explore sex (he had just finished Lolita, after all), and to equate warfare with sex is a common analogy. 

“The sexual content of Dr. Strangelove, what one critic labeled a ‘sex allegory’ and another example of ‘erotic displacement,’ represents the most discernible and widely discussed mythopoeic element in the film.  The progress of the film from ‘foreplay to explosion,’ to quote one critic, is clearly and almost too neatly connected with the satiric characterizations.” (Nelson, page 93)

As examples of this Nelson offers: Jack D. Ripper is named after history’s more notorious sex offender. A Playboy Magazine centerfold is featured on the B-52 and the ultimate target for the bomber ends up being a Soviet base at “Laputa” (Spanish for ‘whore’). Turgidson tells his scantily dressed girlfriend (who is also the centerfold) to start her "countdown" and "Bucky will be back before you can say ‘blastoff’." President Merkin Muffley's name is a reference to vulva, according to Nelson.  Finally, “Dr. Strangelove brings Ripper’s madness into the ‘rational’ world of the War Room and links it to man’s intercourse with the machine and a sinister love affair with death.”

“Consequently, the film’s ‘sex allegory’ is only one of several conceptual levels that are interconnected and hold this fictional world together.  Everywhere you look in the film, for instance, there are hints of primal and infantile regression that suggest a reverse descent not into space but into time.  There is Kong’s Neanderthal Man and the primitivism of Turgidson, who slaps his hairy belly while standing over his mistress and in the War Room repeatedly assumes apelike stances.  There is Ripper crawling on all fours as his mind degenerates to the same level as those juvenile scrawls on his notepad that contains the recall code. There are the opening images of the film, a B-52 bomber being refueled in midair, suggesting both copulation and a mother giving suck, while on the soundtrack we hear ‘Try a Little Tenderness’…” (Nelson, page 95)

The negative reaction of the Columbia Pictures studio producers to film is similar to how Hollywood executives reacted to 2001. Dr. Strangelove also received some less than enthusiastic reviews, mostly due to the critics believing humor was inappropriate where the possibility of a nuclear holocaust is concerned.

Strangelove went on general US release on 30 January 1964, to classic mixed reviews, but an improving box office.  ‘A true satire,’ said the Saturday Review, ‘with the whole human race as the ultimate target,  I’m inclined to say that this mordant young director Kubrick has carried American comedy to a new high ground.’ Bosley Crowther in the New York Times harrumphed, ‘I am troubled by the feeling which runs all through the film, of discredit and even contempt for our whole military establishment.’  The Washington Post concurred: ‘No communist could dream of a more effective anti-American film to spread aboard than this one.’” (Baxter, page 192) 

The film's final hurdle was a completely unexpected one.  Its original premiere date was November 22, 1963.  But the assassination of President John F. Kennedy led to a cancellation until January 1964. The depiction of President Muffley and the seriousness of the subject matter was deemed by Columbia and Kubrick himself as being unsuitable given current events.  This also led to a slight change in dialog by Slim Pickens.

In the film Pickens rather comically runs through a content check of all the items in the crew's individual survival kits.  This include condoms and other "non-essential" items.  At which point Pickens originally said: "Shoot, a fella could have a pretty good time in Dallas with all this stuff."  Obviously, since Kennedy was murdered in Dallas the line had to be overdubbed.  In the final film you can see Pickens' mouth still utter "Dallas" but his voice overdubs the word with "Vegas."

Despite mixed reviews, Dr. Strangelove earned at the box office more than four times its cost, making it a financial success for Columbia and for Kubrick.  The director had taken a big risk with a serious subject.  The result is one of the greatest film's ever made.  I would give Dr. Strangelove a solid 9 on my rating scale.  I have seen it a dozen times or more through the years.  Each viewing feels entertaining and fresh, the dark humor is timeless.  Though theoretically the threat of nuclear weapons is as serious now as it ever was, it is no longer part of the zeitgeist of our times.  That Kubrick boldly turned the existential terror of that time into one of the world's greatest comedic films is no small achievement.  That Dr. Strangelove remains as enjoyable today as it was in 1964 is an even greater accomplishment.
The famous closing shot.  Slim Pickens rides the bomb all the way down.