Double feature: The combination of sly satire and visual panache seems like a rare one, perhaps because of intrinsic differences in scale (detailed vs. holistic) and medium (word vs. image.) But when these two elements combine, as they do in both “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Dr. Strangelove,” the effect is dazzling.
From within the basic structural confines of a well-established genre – the western and the war movie, respectively – both films hit their expected marks (justice, revenge, suspense, destruction) while simultaneously blowing them open, subverting and sending up their conventions.
In both films, impeccable, panoramic, often breathtaking style is put to practical use, contributing to the alternating build up and release of significant amounts of narrative tension. While not inseparable, the films’ verbal wit and visual verve are interdependent, feeding off of each other and multi-dimesionally underscoring the message at each film’s core.
In both films, characters quite literally hold the lives of others in their hands, and contrast the logic of flexible conciliation with that of single-minded determination to carry out a primal impulse. In each film, ideology is both intensified and tempered by characters’ personal interests, and then refracted through the prism of the filmmaker’s irony.
In the end, each film’s subversive convolutions twist it into something approaching the genre of its double feature pairing: the Western takes a prolonged detour through the battlefield, while the war movie’s standoff of solitary figures against an empty landscape, with the fates of entire citizenries hinging on the outcome, is pure oater.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “Jeremy Brooks” and “vvvracer” at Flickr)