Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stubs - A Clockwork Orange



A Clockwork Orange (1971) Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corrie, Miriam Karlin, Godfrey Quigley, Anthony Sharp, Warren Clarke. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick. Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess. Produced by Stanley Kubrick. Music by Walter (now Wendy) Carlos Run Time: 137 minutes. U.K.  Color. Drama

Not for the faint of heart, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian vision of Britain wherein costume clad youth gangs roam the streets of London and the outlying counties, robbing, raping and killing, almost without consequence. Besides its violent imagery, the film is probably best remembered for its adapted electronic score by Walter Carlos and for making a star out of its lead, Malcolm McDowell.

Taking place in a post-World War II and futuristic socialist United Kingdom, the film examines not only sociopathic teenagers and the parents who raise them, but the film also delves into the political question: is public safety worth taking away a man’s free will?


Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is a teenager in reform school, who leads a small gang of droogs (the film, like the book before it, has its own slang, Nadsat), Pete (Michael Tarn), George (James Marcus) and Dim (Warren Clarke), who wreak havoc on whomever comes across their path. One night spurred on by a drink referred to milk plus, the gang beats up an elderly drunk (Paul Farrell); rumbles with a rival gang led by Billyboy (Richard Connaught) who’s gang was about to rape a defenseless girl (Shirley Jaffe); steals a car and drives out to the country. There, they play one of their favorite games, which amounts to a home invasion, swooping in on a writer, Frank Alexander (Patrick Magee) and his wife, Mary (Adrienne Corrie). They destroy the furnishings, cripple the man and rape the wife in front of him; all the time, Alex is singing and dancing to “Singin’ in the Rain”.

Alex and his Droogs attack a drunkard (Paul Farrell)
After one more visit to the milk bar, Alex and gang go home. To top off his evening of debauchery, Alex plays his favorite piece of music: Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony Fourth movement.

Drunk on Milk, Alex and his Droogs contemplate what to do next.
The next day, Alex feels no remorse and tells his mother he can’t go to school. But his truancy has garnered the attention of Mr. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris), who is aware of Alex’s violence, but knows nothing can be proven. 
He warns Alex to keep clean and go to school.

Alex, instead, goes to a record store where he picks up two girls and to a sped up version of the William Tell Overture has sex with both of them in his bedroom back home.
Alex picking up a couple of girls at the Record Store.
That evening, George speaks for the other droogs who think Alex’s leadership is lacking and expresses their wanting for more equality within the gang. George wants Alex to stop picking on Dim and for the gang to think big. He has his sights on a Health Farm run by a rich older woman, referred to in the movie as the “cat-woman” (Miriam Karlin). But Alex will not give up leadership easily. Music inspires him to dispatch George and Dim into a canal and then to slice Dim’s hand when the latter is looking to get out of the water.

Alex has to keep Dim and George in line when they challenge his leadership.
But Alex goes along with George’s plan nonetheless. However, the cat-woman won’t go down easily. She doesn’t fall for Alex’s usual entry, of begging to use the phone because of an accident. Instead, she recognizes the patter from news reports about the writer’s wife’s rape and calls the police. When Alex breaks in, the cat-woman fights back; swinging and connecting with a statue of Ludwig Van, while Alex tries to fight her off with a phallic statue, eventually killing her with it.

When the police arrive, Alex’s droogs take revenge, smashing Alex in the face with a full milk bottle. Alex is arrested. Deltoid arrives during the police interrogation to let Alex know that the woman had died. After trial, Alex is sent to prison for fourteen years. While incarcerated, Alex pretends to be the model prisoner, helping the Chaplain (Godfrey Quigley) and reading the bible, or what Alex calls the big book. But Alex’s thoughts are not right. When he reads about Jesus’ crucifixion, Alex sees himself as a Roman soldier whipping Christ and even helping to nail him to the cross.


Finally under arrest, Alex still pleads his innocence.
Alex has heard about a new form of therapy that is supposed to get a man out of prison and asks the Chaplain for help. What Alex has heard about is called the Ludovico technique which is supposed to cure a criminal of his ways in two weeks. The Minister of Interior (Anthony Sharp) comes looking for test subjects, Alex volunteers.

But Alex has no idea what he’s getting into. Given an experimental serum, Alex is strapped down in a chair and made to watch violent films. He finds himself getting sick to his stomach instead of excited. But the music in the background of the films is Beethoven’s Ninth, which now makes dear Alex physically ill when he hears it. Dr. Brodsky (Carl Duering) tells him that it is an unfortunate side effect to getting cured.

Part of Alex's treatment is to subject him to violent images.
Alex is put on display to show just how cured he is. When an actor (John Clive) attacks Alex he can’t fight back. He even succumbs to licking the actor’s shoes. Next a topless woman (Virginia Wetherell) confronts Alex. Instead of having his way with her, Alex, once again, gets physically ill.

“Cured”, he is released from prison, but has nowhere to go. When he goes back to his mum (Sheila Raynor) and dad’s (Philip Stone) apartment, he finds that his room has been let out to Joe (Clive Francis), who the parents seem to prefer to their own child.

When Alex returns home, he finds his room has been let out to Joe.
Kicked to the curb, Alex encounters the drunkard he and his gang had beaten up two years before. When other tramps take to beating up Alex, the policemen that come to his rescue are Dim and George, two jobs for two boys of job age. They haven’t forgotten the old Alex either. Driving him to the outskirts, they beat and nearly drown him in a cow’s trough.

What goes around comes around. George and Dim get even with Alex.
Left alone, cold and wet, Alex searches for someplace to take him in. Unfortunately, the house is the home of writer Alexander, now a cripple. Mary is dead and Frank is living with a muscle-bound bodyguard, Julian (David Prowse, perhaps better known as the body of Darth Vader in the Stars Wars second trilogy). Alex’s plight is well known and when he tells Frank that he was beaten by the police, the writer sees this as a chance to get the current government kicked out of power. However, while he waits for his colleagues (John Savident and Margaret Tyzack) to arrive, he hears Alex happily singing “Singin’ in the Rain” and the memories of that horrible night flood back.

Alex is drugged and taken to an upstairs bedroom. With Beethoven’s Ninth being pumped into the room, Alex takes refuge in the only thing that will stop the music, suicide.

Alex is purposefully driven mad with Ludwig Van's 9th.
But the attempt fails and Alex is taken to a hospital. There his “Gulliver”, brain, is tinkered with and the ill-effects of the serum are removed. A psychiatrist (Pauline Taylor) makes sure that Alex is once again “cured” as his thoughts return again to violence and sex.

In a final ironic ending, the Minister of the Interior returns to bribe Alex for his support, promising him a good job with good pay in return for his support of the current government. As a special surprise, the Minister arranges for music, the Ninth, which we can see has a transformative effect on Alex. Unsettling, the film ends with knowledge that Alex will once again be back on the streets. And Gene Kelly’s rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain” has never sounded more ominous.

The film deals with the moral question of what is goodness and if aversion therapy, at the cost of a man’s free will, is worth the public safety. Apparently, it all depends on what is politically expedient as the same government that “cured” Alex sets him back to how he was, because it’s good for the polls, not necessarily good for Alex or Britain’s long term well-being.

I wouldn’t say that the film is no-holds barred. Violent, the film was originally rated X by the MPAA (but has since been revised to R), the film actually shies away from going too far. There are more violent scenes in other Kubrick films, such as Full Metal Jacket (1987). We don’t, in A Clockwork Orange, see actual rape or murder. We’re led up to the point, but the actual brutality is never shown in graphic detail.  That said, this is not a film for small children or the faint of heart. You should know going in that you will see things that you won’t easily forget or dismiss.

It has literally been a couple of decades since I’d last seen the film and my reaction to the film has changed over that time. I’m closer in life to Frank Alexander than I am to Alex’s youth. The prurient has given way to concerns for the safety of family and hearth. I can sympathize with Frank's thirst for revenge against the one who destroyed his life, but I’m not sure I could go in for the torture he puts Alex through.

Walter Carlos’ electronic-fused soundtrack is one of those occasions when the music and the visuals merge perfectly. While I have listened to Carlos’ work on its own, it is impossible to imagine A Clockwork Orange without its then futuristic sounding accompaniment. The interpretations of classics, from Beethoven and Rossini, give the film a realistic, so to speak, sound without overwhelming the pieces or synthesizing the heart out of them.

Kubrick was never one to shy away from violence or sexuality, but he would never make a better film than this one. You can see Kubrick’s touch in the framing of the shots, the subject matter and the ultimate starkness of the world he creates. I’m thinking more of his later films, like Full Metal Jacket, The Shining (1980) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). His earlier films, like The Killing (1956) are good, but adhere to the production code that was still in place at the time. With a new freedom in filmmaking, post 1968, Kubrick was set free and produced some of his best known films, including the majestic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

A Clockwork Orange is an essential film and should be watched, even if occasionally through the fingers you may put in front of your eyes to shield some of the stronger visuals.

A Clockwork Orange is available at the WB Shop:

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