mm... What’s left to say about director Stanley Kubrick’s Orwellian nightmare captured on film, "A Clockwork Orange"?
Probably not a whole lot seeing as it’s been the subject of more term papers, movie reviews, and film school theses than any one of us could ever read in an entire lifetime. Yet, the Kubrick fanboy who lives inside me can’t pass up the opportunity to wax poetic about what is perhaps one of the ten greatest films ever made.
I only hope that you all can indulge me.
Based on Anthony Burgess’ novel, A Clockwork Orange tells us the story of Alex (Malcolm McDowell: Caligula, Tank Girl), a teenaged miscreant wandering the blasted urban landscape of the near future. Nothing much matters to the nihilistic Alex —except for rape, the ultraviolence, and the music of good old Ludwig Van (Beethoven). He spends his evenings drinking drugged milk at the Korova milk bar, hanging out with his droogs, and looking for that special brand of entertainment that brings him such joy —usually at the expense of others.
And that’s where we find Alex as the film opens —imbibing his drink of choice and planning an evening’s activities —activities that will include beating a homeless man, getting into a gang fight, stealing a car, and raping a woman (Adrian Corri) while forcing her husband (Patrick Magee) to watch.
Afterwards, we come to see that this is pretty much the standard evening for Alex and his boys, and things would probably go on like this for eternity, if not for the fact that Alex feels the need to keep his troops in line and under his command. This commanding side of Alex doesn’t sit well with his fellow droogies, and as a payback, they set him up. Alex is arrested for the murder of a wealthy woman (who he kills with a very large fallic statue) and sentenced to fourteen years in prison.
Jail doesn’t agree with Alex, so he wiles away the days by reading the Old Testament (the sex and violence intrigues him) and chatting with the prison’s chaplain. When he hears of a new government experiment designed to curb violent tendencies, he goes to extreme lengths to be chosen as the guinea pig. He’s taken to a medical center, where for two weeks, he’s put in a theater and forced to watch violent films (his eyes are pried open—something that nearly cost McDowell his vision). While watching these films, he’s also given a drug that will make him nauseous—causing his body to equate violence with sickness.
The experiment is a rousing success, as witnessed through a public demonstration where Alex becomes physically ill when confronted with a naked woman, and a man who berates him. He’s a new man, one ready to become a productive member of society —only his past misdeeds continue to haunt him.
In a series of different events, Alex winds up encountering everyone he’d wronged in his past—and each of them are looking to settle a score. Alex ultimately becomes suicidal, and after his failed attempt, finds himself in a hospital—one that cures him of his re-programming, bringing the film to a close as the narrative, and Alex, come full circle.
During its initial release, A Clockwork Orange was denounced as a despicable film that glorified violence and rape—nothing could be further from the truth. Kubrick’s film is essentially a parable—a story with a moral theme buried at its heart, one dealing with the loss of humanity and dehumanization in general. It’s ground that Kubrick would come back to time and again in his work, but I find that this film is most poignant of the bunch. Alex is a despicable (but very intriguing) individual, yet he’s still a human being. And even though it seems like utopia to live in a world where there is no violence, violence is ultimately part of being human—to lose it would be to lose a part of ourselves, and wind up less human in the process.
The film showcases all the standard Kubrick stylistic flourishes, including the inventive camera angles and movements, an interesting use of color throughout, and wonderful melding of music with visuals. Kubrick’s camera setups tend to draw us into Alex’s world, making us more than the standard film voyeurs, instead nearly making us giddy participants in the onscreen atrocity. Most filmmakers would distance the viewer from the violence, but not Kubrick. No.
Stanley wants you to experience it all, first hand… that way, you’re no less guilty than Alex, and you’ll suffer just as he does through the rest of the film. It’s a similar effect to the one Pier Pasolini applies in Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom (read my review if you’re interested). Every Kubrick fan has their own personal choice for which film constitutes the man’s best work, and A Clockwork Orange gets my vote. While all of the man’s films were incredible, this one seems the most complete of the bunch.
McDowell is at his best as young Alex, a monster in the guise of a young man. Alex might be film’s most perfectly realized sociopath—there’s a wicked sense of cunning inherent in his every feature, one that never fails to terrorize the audience. However, like most sociopaths, he’s also quite likeable. Alex is intelligent, witty, and even quite charming when the situation calls for it, but his savagery is always lurking just beneath the surface—waiting for the right moment to rise up and strike.
Most interesting of all is the way that Kubrick, Burgess, and McDowell actually manage to make us sympathize with Alex’s plight after he’s freed from prison. Alex has wronged everyone who wrongs him and has some of what he gets coming to him, but you still feel bad for the guy. Whether that’s because he’s somehow less human now that he’s been stripped of his ability to react violently or something else entirely, I’m not sure —but at any rate, it’s a fascinating dynamic… one that makes the viewer question a lot of things about himself.
In the end, A Clockwork Orange is too complex a film to deal with in anything resembling a simple review. One could write a doctoral thesis on all the things at work in the novel and film and still not cover it all. Kubrick’s movie is ultimately one of the prime examples of the power film has to transcend the medium—meaning it’s not only entertainment, but also social commentary, a meditation on what it means to be human, and more.
If you’ve seen the film, then you know where I’m coming from. If you’ve never seen A Clockwork Orange, then quit reading this review and go rent a copy. This film gets nothing less than my highest recommendation.
It’s essential viewing for any film fan. WATCH IT.
Don't forget that A Clockwork Orange is now available to order on Widescreen DVD using our special 70s search device... [See DVD section or click here for more details]
By: Cesar Alvia
With the sudden death of Stanley Kubrick recently, a part of my love for film died along with him, as I recognized the unfortunate fact that there was no other director alive to closely heed the call for attention to detail and visceral content.
The thought of looking to Steven Spielberg for future answers was almost unbearable as I remembered that his originality often gives way to family fare (The Pinnochio finale of `Artificial Intelligence') in an attempt to pad his already overloaded wallet.
I thought about Sam Mendes and cringed as I remembered that, for him, art was a floating grocery bag with unclever teenagers clamoring around it in `American Beauty.'
No one could replace Stanley Kubrick and after the intitial tears I bought his boxed set and tried to make the best out of a bad situation. And it was then that I rediscovered his greatest achievement `A Clockwork Orange.'
What inspired me to watch `A Clockwork Orange' all those years ago was initially it's `X' rating. I knew that mom would have a fit and I had to see why it was so provocative. For the better part of the 1970's it was also banned furthering my desire to see it. I was surprised by the `X' rating until I witnessed the hilarious in-out rape scenes and was somewhat amazed at the blatancy and sheer delight of the slow-motion pummeling of his droogies by the sweet looking but awfully scary Alex De Large (Malcolm McDowell).
Upon further viewing a new love and passion grew for the film until I became part of the passionate cult that remains inspired by `A Clockwork Orange' more than any other films on the AFI Top 100 of all time list.
`A Clockwork Orange' was a very sad film for any lawmaker who adores social order and loathes freedom of speech in 1971. The response of lawmakers who banned this critical statement on social order proved their fear by banning it almost immediately though it still managed an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and Best Director and deservedly so.
Ironically, Kubrick's most original piece was a witty and insightful adaptation of the terrific Anthony Burgess novel. I believe that Burgess would have loved what Kubrick did with it. There were subtle changes and Alex ultimately failed to become a do-gooder in the film but it was all for the best. You almost never like the movie more than the novel but this is a film where Kubrick works overtime to bring his imagination to the proceedings and the movie is better than the novel.
With every Kubrick film comes the feeling of eating Turkish food. As a principle Turkish food can be presented with a taste that is somewhat unedible. More importantly is the idea of presentation and the experience requires elegance and an amazing contrast of color. This as opposed to taste makes for quality food. Similarly, Kubrick often shied away from telling a fundamentally coherent plot and concerned himself with the details of visual artistry. `A Clockwork Orange' was his best effort on the silver screen because he was able to finally incorporate a fantastic story with the elegant presentation of color, a task that surely kept him at night as he tossed and turned searching for a perfect balance of the two.
What truly makes this adaptation of the Burgess novel a success, is what Malcolm McDowell brings to the screen. He is Alex De Large and you can't help but kind of adore his urgent needs for a little of the old ultra violence each night as he unexpectedly makes his house calls through the neighborhood and pounces on innocent women. You also can't help but appreciate his interaction with his good old mom and dad as a tiny snicker forms when he insists on not being able to attend school and a sad but sweet look of confusion and sadness innocently appears as his parents introduce him to their replacement son and he finds himself homeless and in need of his droogies. His interactions with his droogies are a delight as he goes from `singing in the rain' to a mad villain beating up the little groupies in slow-motion.
There is a sense of sadness as he ironically goes from being Beethoven's number one fan to a botched suicide that leaves him with broken limbs abounding but the same clever smile and good attitude. The finale is quite possibly the best ever in cinema as sweet Alex cannot help but think of a little of the old in-out as the nurses attempt to curtail his ultra violent tendencies. The slow smile that appears on his innocently despicable face is a sheer delight. The incredible accent makes it all the better.
`A Clockwork Orange' was a film that was so far ahead of it's time in 1971. The Kordova Milk Bar was a trendy little place we can only picture existing in the future. The fascinating way that his crime was dealt with could be the wave of the future should the capital punishment issue cause too much disagreement. In short, a little of the old ultra violence is what propelled this film to high rankings and what will eventually allow all of us to allow our children to see it, once they're 18 of course...
Kubrick once said "If Malcolm [McDowell] hadn't been available I probably wouldn't have made the film."
It is said that Stanley Kubrick made this movie because of the failure of "Waterloo" (1970). After he completed 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), he had planned to film a movie about Napoleon's life. After many years of research, he sent location scouts to various Eastern European locations, and even had an agreement with the army of Yugoslavia to supply troops for the vast battle scenes. However, after Waterloo tanked, Kubrick's financial backers pulled out. He thus decided to adapt the American version of "Clockwork", which had been given to him by Terry Southern (co-writer of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)).
The writer of the novel, Anthony Burgess, lived for a time in Malaysia [where his wife was beaten by four American GI's, thus giving inspiration to this story]. In Malay, the word "ourang" means man, [this is also part of the derivation of the word 'orangutan', the other half being derived from "houtan" meaning jungle] therefore, the title of the story is actually a pun on the British expression. Rather than a clockwork fruit, it is a clockwork man, which is, of course, exactly what Alex has become by the end of the film.
Before director Stanley Kubrick become involved in the film, Anthony Burgess originally sold the movie to Mick Jagger for $500 when he needed quick cash. Jagger intended to make it with the Rolling Stones as the droogs.
Anthony Burgess absolutely despised Kubrick's movie - particularly because he received no money from it. When Kubrick retreated behind his castle after the movie was hysterically received, Burgess was left to deal with a movie he did not authorize, made from a book he didn't even particularly like. Years later, Burgess wrote a stage version of A Clockwork Orange where the first character to step onto the stage had a remarkable resemblance to Kubrick. The rest of the cast members then proceed to beat the Kubrick-doppelganger.
During the filming of the Ludovico scene, star Malcolm McDowell scratched one of his corneas and was temporarily blinded. He suffered cracked ribs during filming of the humiliation stage show, and he also nearly drowned when his breathing apparatus failed while being held underwater in the trough scene.
When Alex and the droogs enter the Korova Milkbar, there are many paintings on the wall, one of a naked woman. This same painting appears in Shining, The (1980), also directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Alexander's bodyguard was played by professional bodybuilder David Prowse -More famous for another role in '70s Cinema... Darth Vader of "Star Wars" He was apparantly near exhaustion after the repeated takes of him carrying Alexander and his wheelchair down the stairs.
Malcolm McDowell chose to sing "Singin' In The Rain" during the rape scene, because it was the only song he knew all the lyrics to.
The film was not banned in the United Kingdom as many believed. It was withdrawn voluntarily by Kubrick after being criticized as too violent. Kubrick has stated that the film would be released there only after his death. It was. One of the reasons of why Kubrick apparently asked Warner Bros to withdraw the movie on the U.K. was, according to his wife Christiane, several death threats that the family received because of the film.
This was the first film to use the Dolby-A noise reduction system during its theatrical run.
Burgees' novel had a last chapter that Kubrick left out of the final screenplay. This chapter had Alex finally realizing all the bad things he'd done in his life and change his mind about the ultra-violence. Obviously, it was not included in the film because it would have gone against the message the movie was trying to tell. This might also explain part of why Burgees hates this adaptation of his novel so much: he wanted the violence to end from within the human being, not from external behaviorism. [Thanks to Peter S. Schrump]
know some A Clockwork Orange trivia that we could add? [Please
send it in]
A Clockwork Orange was shot almost entirely on real locations as opposed to sets and was lit almost entirely with a Lowell Kit, a staple for film students, perhaps as a reaction against the huge apparatus needed for Kubrick's previous film, "2001: A Space Odyssey".
The Tramp scenes were shot around the ugly '60s, post modern shopping center debacle in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. The center has since been remodelled extensively in the early '90s but a road underpass linking the railway station to Friars Square was used and still exists today.
Closer to London, in Uxbridge, Brunel University's post moderinistic Ludivigo Center was used.
The final Tramp Scene was shot at Festival Embankment in London
Alex Beaten is beaten up by Police in Joyden's Wood, Bexley, Kent. Edgwarebury Hotel, Barnet Lane, Elstree and Shenley Lodge, Shenley, Hertfordshire were used, as was Thamesmead South Estate in London.
The tramp scene was in fact at Wandsworth Bridge roundabout underpass. The subway in Aylesbury was not even made until late 1980's, it was a roundabout.
One unused scene involving a librarian being attacked was in the novel and filmed, but eventually cut out. This was filmed at Aylesbury, Friars Square Shopping Centre.
The Billyboy gang fight was filmed at the now demolished theatre on Taggs Island, Nr Kingston On Thames.
Brunel University was Ludovico Centre
A house called 'Skybreak' in, The Warren, Radlett was interior of the writer's house. The exterior was a house in Oxfordshire.
When Alex throws himself from a window, was filmed at Edgewarebury Hotel at Elstree village.
The Catlady's house is Shenley Lodge, Hertfordshire. [Thanks to Paul Sexton]
Can you help? Do you know any of the UK (or any other) filming locations used for A Clockwork Orange? [Please send them in]
Synthesist Wendy Carlos contributed the amazing score. Track listing:
2. March from a Clockwork Orange
3. Title Music from a Clockwork Orange
4. Gazza Ladra
5. Theme from a Clockwork Orange
6. Scherzo, Ninth Symphony: Second Movement
7. William Tell Overture [Abridged]
8. Orange Minuet
9. Biblical Daydreams
10. Country Lane
Soundtrack Available: On CD
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