Best Thing I Saw All Week: Dr. Strangelove
Next time you see some gushing twit handing out a load of bullshit at the Academy Awards about the power of movies to 'change the world,' consider Dr. Strangelove. To watch this acid satire again is to be convinced that movies can change exactly nothing. Portrayed here as flat insanity by a three-headed Peter Sellers, a priapic, rubber-faced George C. Scott and suicidal jingo Slim Pickens (not to mention cigar-chomping paranoid Sterling Hayden left in charge of small-but-key link in the command-and-control system), America's cowboy spirit lived on, indeed flourished, in the subsequent fifty years in the persons of Nixon, Kissinger (rumored to be Dr. Strangelove himself), Reagan, the whole Bush gang, Rumsfeld and Cheney and on and on. Strangelove was funny in 1964 because Americans suspected the country was secretly run by idiot/lunatics. It's funny today because Americans know the country is openly run by idiot/lunatics. The otherwise hilariously scathing script only dances briefly around the religious nuttery at the heart of all this mishegoss, but some things were verboten then; Stanley Kubrick and Terry Southern had to be very careful. The Cold War may be over, but American militarism will never die, guaranteeing Dr. Strangelove's indispensability. And thanks to Southern and Kubrick, it's as darkly funny as ever. This is what it used to mean when people said 'dark comedy.'
Best Thing I Read All Week: Chance by Kem Nunn
My wife has tried to convince to read Kem Nunn for years, as has a colleague, so when Kevin Hunsanger described this, Nunn's latest, as 'the best San Francisco mystery since The Maltese Falcon' I figured it was about bloody time and went out and bought a copy — at Green Apple, of course. Chance lacks Falcon's tight-lipped 1930 carpentry instead rambling on psychologically in the manner of certain 2015 San Franciscans, capturing that self-referential zeitgeist. Dr. Eldon Chance, Nunn's protagonist, is a neuropsychiatrist whom you'd expect would come armed with a built-in analytical distance from his patients - people brain-damaged from war or greed or abuse or injury - but all his training doesn't prevent him from falling in love with one of them, and getting in over his head with a bunch more. Mayhem ensues. Like most 21st century problems there is no one simple solution to be had and one is left wondering, and even slightly anxious, by how it all ends up. Or doesn't. Not so The Maltese Falcon.
(Byron Spooner is the Literary Director for Friends of the San Francisco Public Library.)