Stanley Kubrick's controversial film triggered copycat violence on its initial release and as a result the director withdrew the film from circulation in Britain, keeping it suppressed right up to his death in 1999. The film follows sadistic punk Alex (Malcolm McDowell) as he takes his gang on a rape and murder spree, showing absolutely no mercy to any of his victims. When he is eventually captured, the authorities subject him to a series of experiments designed to rid him of his violent tendencies.
The controversy that surrounded Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess's dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange
while the film was out of circulation suggested that it was like Romper Stomper
: a glamorisation of the violent, virile lifestyle of its teenage protagonist, with a hypocritical gloss of condemnation to mask delight in rape and ultra-violence. Actually, it is as fable-like and abstract as The Pilgrim's Progress
, with characters deliberately played as goonish sitcom creations. The anarchic rampage of Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a bowler-hatted juvenile delinquent of the future, is all over at the end of the first act. Apprehended by equally brutal authorities, he changes from defiant thug to cringing bootlicker, volunteering for a behaviourist experiment that removes his capacity to do evil.
It's all stylised: from Burgess' invented pidgin Russian (snarled unforgettably by McDowell) to 2001-style slow tracks through sculpturally perfect sets (as with many Kubrick movies, the story could be told through decor alone) and exaggerated, grotesque performances on a par with those of Dr Strangelove (especially from Patrick Magee and Aubrey Morris). Made in 1971, based on a novel from 1962, A Clockwork Orange resonates across the years. Its future is now quaint, with Magee pecking out "subversive literature" on a giant IBM typewriter and "lovely, lovely Ludwig Van" on mini-cassette tapes. However, the world of "Municipal Flat Block 18A, Linear North" is very much with us: a housing estate where classical murals are obscenely vandalised, passers-by are rare and yobs loll about with nothing better to do than hurt people.
On the DVD: The extras are skimpy, with just an impressionist trailer in the style of the film used to brainwash Alex and a list of awards for which Clockwork Orange was nominated and awarded. The box promises soundtracks in English, French and Italian and subtitles in ten languages, but the disc just has two English soundtracks (mono and Dolby Surround 5.1) and two sets of English subtitles. The terrific-looking "digitally restored and remastered" print is letterboxed at 1.66:1 and on a widescreen TV plays best at 14:9. The film looks as good as it ever has, with rich stable colours (especially and appropriately the orangey-red of the credits and the blood) and a clarity that highlights previously unnoticed details such as Alex's gouged eyeball cufflinks and enables you to read the newspaper articles which flash by. The 5.1 soundtrack option is amazingly rich, benefiting the nuances of performance as much as the classical/electronic music score and the subtly unsettling sound effects. --Kim Newman
--This text refers to the