Pablo Ferro and Dr. Strangelove  APR 22 2008

Here's the trailer for Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

It was done by a fellow named Pablo Ferro; it was his first movie trailer. Steven Heller writes:

After seeing Ferro's commercials, Kubrick hired him to direct the advertising trailers and teasers for Dr. Strangelove and convinced him to resettle in London (Kubrick's base of operations until he died there in March 1999). Ferro was inclined to be peripatetic anyway, and ever anxious to bypass already completed challenges he agreed to pull up stakes on the chance that he would get to direct a few British TV commercials, which he did. The black and white spot that Ferro designed for Dr. Strangelove employed his quick-cut technique -- using as many as 125 separate images in a minute -- to convey both the dark humor and the political immediacy of the film. At something akin to stroboscopic speed words and images flew across the screen to the accompaniment of loud sound effects and snippets of ironic dialog. At a time when the bomb loomed so large in the US public's fears (remember Barry Goldwater ran for President promising to nuke China), and the polarization of left and right -- east and west -- was at its zenith, Ferro's commercial was not only the boldest and most hypnotic graphic on TV, it was a sly subversive statement.

Ferro worked with Kubrick on the iconic and fantastic main titles for the film as well.

Kubrick wanted to film it all using small airplane models (doubtless prefiguring his classic space ship ballet in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Ferro dissuaded him and located the official stock footage that they used instead. Ferro further conceived the idea to fill the entire screen with lettering (which incidentally had never been done before), requiring the setting of credits at different sizes and weights, which potentially ran counter to legal contractual obligations. But Kubrick supported it regardless. On the other hand, Ferro was prepared to have the titles refined by a lettering artist, but Kubrick correctly felt that the rough hewn quality of the hand-drawn comp was more effective. So he carefully lettered the entire thing himself with a thin pen. Yet only after the film was released did he notice that one word was misspelled: "base on" instead of "based on". Ooops!

If you want that hand-lettered look for yourself, Pablo Skinny is a font by Fargoboy that closely duplicates Ferro's handwriting.

Ferro went on to make several well-known movie title sequences, including those for Bullitt, the original The Thomas Crown Affair, and To Die For, but not Napoleon Dynamite. He collaborated with Kubrick once again on the trailer for A Clockwork Orange, another classic.

Update: According to this Wikipedia article, the work of Canadian avant-garde filmmaker Arthur Lipsett caught the eye of Stanley Kubrick after an Oscar nomination for his short film, Very Nice, Very Nice and, more importantly for our business here, that Kubrick directed the Strangelove trailer himself in Lipsett's style after Lipsett refused to work with Kubrick on it:

Stanley Kubrick was one of Lipsett's fans, and asked him to create a trailer for his upcoming movie Dr. Strangelove. Lipsett declined Kubrick's offer. Kubrick went on to direct the trailer himself; however, Lipsett's influence on Kubrick is clearly visible when watching the trailer.

The two are stylistically similar for sure, but Ferro is credited with having designed the main title sequence (according to the titles themselves). That passage doesn't appear to have been derived from any particular source, so I looked for something more definitive. From a 1986 article by Lois Siegel

After his Academy Award nomination, he received a letter from British filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. The typewritten letter said, "I'm interested in having a trailer done for Dr. Strangelove." Kubrick regarded Lipsett's work as a landmark in cinema -- a breakthrough. He was interested in involving Lipsett. This didn't happen, but the actual trailer did reflect Lipsett's style in Very Nice, Very Nice.

An endnote to a 2004 profile of Lipsett by Brett Kashmere describes what Kubrick wrote to Lipsett in the letter:

Kubrick described Very Nice, Very Nice (1961) as "one of the most imaginative and brilliant uses of the movie screen and soundtrack that I have ever seen." Kubrick was so enthused with the film he invited Lipsett to create a trailer for Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1965) an offer Lipsett refused. Stanley Kubrick, letter to Arthur Lipsett, Arthur Lipsett Collection, Cinematheque québécoise Archives, Montreal, May 31, 1962.

It's not clear what the connection is between Lipsett's work and the trailer that Ferro ended up producing for Strangelove, but several sources (including Heller) say that Ferro developed his quick-cut style directing commercials in the 1950s, work that would predate that of Lipsett.

Lipsett more clearly influenced the work of another prominent filmmaker, George Lucas. Lucas found inspiration in Lipsett's 21-87 in making THX-1138 and borrowed the concept of "the Force" for the Star Wars movies. Lucas' films are littered with references to Lipsett's film; e.g. Princess Leia's cell in Star Wars was in cell #2187. (thx, gordon)

Read more posts on kottke.org about:
design   Dr. Strangelove   movies   pabloferro   Stanley Kubrick   trailers   typography

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