The characters and incidents portrayed and the names used herein are fictitious and any similarity to the names, history, and characters of any person is entirely accidental and unintentional.
This familiar disclaimer appears in the opening credits of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. This legal statement is standard practice in films, television and novels, but in relation to the absurd nature of Kubrick’s film, with its ridiculous storyline and range of bizarre characters, this phrase reads more as parody. A scientist, Dr. Strangelove, who has an alien hand that continually attempts to strangle him is more a creature of comic books than real life. The film itself is a black comedy, a satire of the post WWII politics and popular representations of the Cold War that perpetuated the fear of nuclear war. Whether the disclaimer is intended as sincere or as comedy, its use in this context points to a key interest for Kristan Horton and why the artist chooses this film as a point of departure.
Horton is interested in the issues of appropriation within the larger frame of representation and, in particular, parody. In an online interview Horton provides a shortlist of some of the historical intentions behind the uses of appropriation as a viable art strategy: “to bring a sense of immediacy, to transport the viewer, to bring life back into art, and to rewrite history.” Parody has a distinct function within this overall strategy; it seems to be an exception within the rules of appropriation in relation to the fair use and reuse of images. It is a valid reason for representation and re-representation and seems to skirt the litigious implications of appropriation.
Dr. Strangelove Dr. Strangelove is an ambitious project in which the artist reproduced 200 scenes from the film Dr. Strangelove as sculptures. He starts with Kubrick’s definitive film, drawing on it to look at issues surrounding appropriation, as a means to move beyond the shortlist outlined above. Using various commonplace items from his studio (a glue-stick, garbage bags, cutlery, felt markers and dirt to name a few) Horton constructs the overall composition of each scene. He then places, side by side, a black and white photograph of his improvised constructions with a reproduction of the original film still, amalgamating them into a single printed image. He directly uses images from the film painstakingly recreating them with a somewhat unexpected precision, but after all his labour and formal problem solving, Horton still relies on the original images in the final exhibition of his work.
Horton’s piece is not meant to be a parody of Kubrick’s parody, replacing the film’s logic, or more aptly, its illogic. It is a sincere homage to the director’s effective use of satire with its precise medley of humor, irony and exaggeration. Kubrick builds a story that moves beyond simple ridicule to criticism, effectively questioning the contemporary state of politics. He began adapting Peter George’s novel Red Alert, using it to show the ludicrousness of the idea of what George calls Mutual Assured Destruction. In large part, Kubrick’s use of parody is effective because of the proliferation of representations of the communist and nuclear threat in the media and popular culture. Also released around the same time were a significant number of somber and fear inducing Cold War films produced around the same time as Dr. Strangelove, including Goldfinger, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Fail-Safe, Seven Days in May and The Bedford Incident. Extensive US news coverage of these threats at the time included the installation of the Washington-to-Moscow hot line designed to prevent accidental war, Soviet leader Khrushchev’s fall from power, China’s detonation of its first atomic bomb and the US embargo on Cuban imports and exports. In 1964 the first action figure GI Joe was successfully launched in the US.
Exposure to the topic under scrutiny is paramount to the effectiveness of parody. Horton makes the brunt of his inquiry his personal position as a viewer. In order to formally dissect Kubrick’s carefully composed mise-en-scenes, the artist has seen the film over 700 times. There is a clear absurdity in this number. It is as exaggerated as Kubrick’s characters and as mad as the idea of destroying the world in a game of “if you can’t have it neither can I.” Horton states, “The film is quite absurd: not simply a comedy, but truly twisted in its plot and character treatments. In taking away these elements activating its absurdity, I saw the potential for this absurdity to be activated in a new way.” He has replaced the bizarre characters and ludicrous, albeit linear, narrative by establishing and formally defining his attachment to the film in similar terms.
His use of exposure is two fold: first, as parody and second, as a means of appropriation. Horton asks whether you can appropriate something by experiencing it, in this case through excessive exposure to it. For him this is a valid question, one that addresses another question: how do you really come to understand something? In the artist’s words, ‘I really didn’t choose Dr. Strangelove because it fit with my ideas for a project; rather, I started with the film and found something there through intense exposure.”
 All quotations from the artist are taken from Otino Corsano: Interview w/ Kristan Horton, www.samplesize.ca