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A Clockwork Orange [DVD] 
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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 NewmanSee all Product description
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The first thing to stress is how faithful the film is to the book. It was Kubrick’s first solo writing effort and he has made a point of saying he was “happy to skip the birth pangs of developing an original narrative” when it came to writing the script which he did alone without Burgess. The film follows the book’s three act structure, retains much of the dialog and changes very little along the way. In some ways the book is more shocking. There Alex is 15 (McDowell is obviously older), the three-way orgy involves drugging two 10 year old girls (the girls on screen are again older and also don’t need to be drugged) and Alex brutally beats a cellmate to death in prison (Kubrick points up Alex’s ‘innocence’ of any crime while being imprisoned). What can be seen however is always going to be more shocking than what one merely reads and as Burgess says (and Kubrick quotes exactly), “It’s funny how the colours of the like real world only seem real when you viddy them on the screen.” In this way Alex and his fellow droogs’ joyride of violence, rape and murder comes across “real horrorshow” as does the government’s counter-violence committed on Alex through psychological conditioning and the removal of his ability to defend himself against the very victims he earlier wronged. Burgess puts it very clearly when he said, “The film and the book are about the danger of reclaiming sinners through sapping their capacity to choose between good and evil. Most of all, I wanted to show in my story that God made man free to choose either good or evil and that is an astounding gift.” Clearly Kubrick is at one with this and stresses mainly through the prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley) that man ceases to be a man once moral choice is denied to him. Alex’s evil is therefore much lesser than that of the state. Good is only ‘good’ if it is chosen, not imposed, and Kubrick was very sensitive at the time to answering ideas raised by psychologist B. F. Skinner who suggested people can be conditioned into behaving well. Kubrick said, “I like to believe Skinner is wrong and that what is sinister is that this philosophy may serve as the intellectual basis for some sort of scientifically oriented repressive government.” The film then is on one level a prophetic warning of what could happen in the future if man’s ethical right to choose is ever denied.
The one big difference between film and book comes in Kubrick deciding to stay with the American version of the text which axed Burgess’s original final chapter. Burgess wanted to stress Alex’s story as a cycle of childhood ending with him waking up to his moral responsibility as a social person and actually growing up. Meeting ex-fellow droog Pete he is inspired to choose a normal life, get a job, find a wife and have kids. Kubrick had no truck with this softening once he discovered it and decided to end his film with Alex returned to his prior free state. This says everything about the central difference between the two artists. On one hand there is the Catholic writer coming to terms with the brutal beating inflicted on his first wife by a gang of American soldiers at the end of World War 2. Having lived through the era of the Teddy Boys, the Mods and the Rockers he felt the instinct to craft a morality fable with hope offered at the end. On the other hand is the Jewish American director who is less concerned with Christian morality than he is with painting a balanced picture of social good and evil in binary terms which tally with his misanthropic worldview, his nagging misogyny and his belief in man creating systems of control which end up controlling him. Crucially, Alex starts in the primal state of freedom and finishes there after having it taken away from him. To qualify the symmetry of the film’s examination of good and evil with Alex ‘growing up’ would run counter to Kubrick’s sour view of mankind. It would also contradict a central point of the film – that this ‘growing up’ is part of the very clockwork process that is Kubrick’s (if not Burgess’s) target of attack. Alex isn’t the only one to be psychologically conditioned through watching films. We are also subjecting ourselves to the same process taking the place of Alex chained to his wheelchair looking straight at images on a screen as well as representing exactly what Alex is looking at and being conditioned by. Implicit within the central argument of the film is the idea that we are all clockwork oranges conditioned by hidden powers to think this and do that, and (in an important Freudian binary) that Alex “represents the id, the savage repressed side of our nature which guiltlessly enjoys the same pleasures of rape” (Kubrick) while the authority figures we see represent the ego trying to contain the id’s desire to express itself. Of course, in the topsy-turvy satire of this film where the id plays narrator these authority figures are all depicted as far worse than “Your Humble Narrator Alex.” It is to be noted that Burgess didn’t reject Kubrick’s reinterpretation. Far from it, he so appreciated what the director had done with his book that he didn’t mind at all the credit “Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange” and also seriously considered that his American publisher as well as Kubrick may have been right to discard his final chapter after all.
Though it’s far from obvious on a single view, key to this film’s greatness is its beautifully balanced dialectical narrative structure which comes straight down from Burgess, but which is bound out of an extraordinary series of binary combinations wholly characteristic of Kubrick and which rivals and perhaps even surpasses what the director later achieved on The Shining. Burgess’s book is split into three parts, each part into seven chapters which added together make 21, the age at which adulthood is reached. To make the symmetry and binary combinations clear I have posted a summary of the film as a comment at the foot of this review which I refer to in the following discussion.
First we notice the film begins and ends in Alex’s primal state as a completely free spirit. This is encapsulated further in the first and last scenes of the film, the opening slow reverse dolly gradually revealing the Korova Milkbar (Part 1, Sc.1 ) where Alex and his droogs are readying themselves for their ultraviolence and the closing static mid-shot of Alex cavorting with a naked girl in the snow (Part 3, Sc.2 ) while toffs in sophisticated clothes look down and applaud from what appears to be the members enclosure of Ascot racecourse. Both shots are exactly symmetrical and are dominated by the naked female form. Each of the three parts can be split into two collections of scenes which balance each other as well as themselves. Part 1, Scene 1 charts the journey from the attack on the tramp (Paul Farrell), through the casino fight with Billyboy and his droogs, the Durango 95 joy-ride, the vicious attack on Mr. Alexander (Patrick Magee) and his wife (Adrienne Corri), a return to the Korova where Alex offends Dim (Warren Clarke) and then a return home to a masturbatory orgy listening to the scherzo of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as Alex imagines three apocalyptic visions – a hanging with Alex as Dracula, rocks falling in a Raquel Welch film and a nuclear explosion. The Korova Milkbar sequences (Sc.1  & ) frame the scene with this final orgy (Sc.1 ) posted as a fashed and fagged epilogue which finds it’s echo in Part 2, Sc.1  where Alex imagines three visions from the Bible – himself as a Roman centurion whipping Christ bearing the cross, as a Roman soldier in battle and as a Roman enjoying three girls in erotic abandon in another completely symmetrical composition. Furthermore, the various victims of Part 1, Scene 1 reappear in Part 3, Scene 1 to exact their revenge on a now defenseless Alex. The Irish drunk beats him up with his mates, Dim and Georgie now as policemen get their chance to beat up Alex, the ride in the police van into the country echoing the earlier joyride in the Durango 95, and then most binary of all is the way Alex returns HOME and allows Alexander to get his revenge. Kubrick shoots both scenes the same way, shots outside showing Alex approaching, then a 90º shot of Alexander at his typewriter, the camera sliding right on a track to reveal (in Part 1, Sc.1 ) Mrs. Alexander and (in Part 3, Sc.1 ) Julian, the assistant Alexander has had to hire after his wife died. Alexander says exactly the same thing (“Who on earth could that be?”) before the other person goes to the front door accompanied with the same camera set up, low and looking up. In the earlier scene Alex and his droogs push in, but in the later scene Alex falls in exhausted. Part 1, Scene 2 is book-ended with scenes (Sc.2  & ) involving Alex’s ‘post corrective advisor’ P. R. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris) suggesting the net closing in on Alex’s freedom. In the first scene Deltoid warns Alex but in the last he spits on him, Alex having failed him in becoming a murderer. In between Alex visits the disc-bootick (Sc.2 ) to pick up two (naturally!) girls, a scene immediately answered by the flowing fast-motion ‘William Tell’ 3-way orgy (Sc.2 ). Then there is a scene with Georgie, Pete and Dim rounding on Alex (Sc.2 ) which is immediately answered by Alex attacking them and restoring order at the pub, the Duke of New York (Sc.2 ). The attack on the Cat Lady (Miriam Karlin) is again immediately answered by Alex’s arrest and police officers beating him up at the station (Sc.2  & ). The way the droogs betray Alex answers the way he has just attacked them and is echoed again later when Dim and Georgie later take their revenge (Part 3, Sc.1 ).
Part 2 is structured to suggest the clockwork state working as a binary combination in itself. The oldest way of meting out justice comes from the Bible (from Exodus) and involves taking ‘an eye for an eye’. This is presented in Part 2, Scene 1 in the prison scenes where the chaplain, the prison governor (Michael Gover) and especially the Chief Guard (Michael Bates) are clockwork men representing the church, the control of law and order and the implementation of law and order. The machine-like checking in of Alex (Sc.1 ) is balanced by the equally machine-like checking out (Part 3, Sc.1 ) as the Chief Guard exercises his powers with clockwork efficiency. The chaplain’s fire and brimstone speech in (Sc.1 ) is balanced by the governor’s defense of ‘an eye for an eye’ (Sc.1 ). There are two scenes about the Ludovico treatment which Alex is looking to volunteer for and it’s given a ‘for’ speech (Sc.1 ) by the touring Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp) who is looking for a quick and easy way to cut down crime and ease prison congestion, and an ‘against’ speech (Sc.1 ) by the chaplain who sees psychological conditioning as both unholy and dehumanizing. Alex gets his wish and Part 2, Scene 2 sees the other half of the clockwork state represented by psychological conditioning. Again, binary presentation is all. Alex’s ceremonial entrance to the Ludovico facility (Sc.1 ) is balanced by his even more ceremonial stage show (Sc.1 ) in which his impotence is demonstrated – when confronted with the urge to be violent or attack sexually he is seized with attacks of nausea. The show has two scenes, one Alex being beaten up and then being tempted by a gorgeous siren. In between there are two scenes of Alex talking with his doctor (Sc.2  & ) and two scenes of him watching films (Sc.2  & ). The first is another two-hander balancing the beating up of a drunk with his own dusting up on stage at the end and also a savage rape sequence which balances his failure to touch the siren. The second film watching sequences balance World War 2 footage with Beethoven, whose Ninth Symphony Alex is accidentally conditioned against. These sequences of Alex tied to a wheelchair (again in an utterly symmetrical composition as the doctors sit at the back analyzing) are at the very apex of the film’s narrative structure, especially the words “It’s funny how the colours of the like real world only seem real when you viddy them on the screen.” During the scene we either look where Alex is looking (at the screen) or are ‘what’ he is looking at as he stares straight at us. The point that we are the same as Alex, sitting in the dark staring at a screen and being ‘conditioned’ is made clear enough even if we are not actually chained to our seats as he is.
Part 2 turns Alex into what in a sense all film watchers are – a voyeur. In Part 3, Scene 1 he has lost his ability to take part in life. What once gave him the most pleasure now gives him the most pain courtesy of the conditioning. Part 3, Scene 1 is essentially payback time in which ‘an eye for an eye’ turns out to be the only way of punishment after all. Alex starts it (Sc.1 ) contemplating suicide after being rejected by his pee and em (and being given an ‘eye for an eye’ speech by Joe the lodger) and finishes it (Sc. 1 ) actually committing suicide by throwing himself out of a window. In between the Irish tramp, his ex-fellow droogs and Alexander all take their revenge in equal proportion to the way they were assaulted earlier. Further binary combinations present are old age v youth (the Irish tramp and friends v Alex), the police and the policed (Dim/Georgie and Alex) and the left and the right wing of the political spectrum (Alexander and his friends on the Left, the police and the Minister of the Interior on the Right). We also notice how Beethoven 9 is first used to push Alex to suicide (by the Left) and then at the end (Sc.2 ) it’s used to restore him back to life (by the Right). We also notice Alexander is caught in a double bind (Sc.1 ). He both wants to rescue Alex intending to use him as a weapon against the government and wants to destroy him for having raped his wife and made him a cripple. Forcing him to jump from the window provides a good way of seeming both to help him (the Left would claim they didn’t know about Alex being conditioned against Beethoven) and punish him – blame for the death being laid squarely on the government (the Right). Another binary connection which I will return to is the matter of names – Alex and Alexander are the same and on one level function to represent the same figure (Burgess/Kubrick – another binary!) outside the text. Part 3, Scene 2 is as carefully balanced out of binary combinations as Part 1, Scene 1. Alex returned to his primal state, it begins and ends with sex, a doctor and nurse getting it on as Alex wakes up (Sc.2 ) and Alex fantasizing about sex at the races in the film’s final image (Sc. 2 ). Newspaper headlines (Sc.2 ) spell out the government crisis Alex has caused and also let us know Alex De Large (‘The Great’!) was once ‘Alex Burgess.’ Alex’s pee and em visit (Sc.2 ) to balance acceptance with the earlier rejection (Sc.1 ). We also get two scenes with nurses/doctors feeding him and giving him a psychology test making sure he is back (that the id has returned!). The scene between Alex and the Interior Minister (Sc.2 ) is another symmetrical affair as they agree to help each other and giant speakers are whisked in equidistant either side of his bed as Alex is restored back to full potency with a closing dose of good old Ludwig van.
The dialectical narrative structure underpins the film’s equally dialectical audio-visual virtuosity. Burgess’s text is notable for its linguistic brilliance, Nadsat being a superb argot for Alex and his droogies to adopt as it refuses to date. Kubrick translates this linguistic virtuosity into an audio-visual one and so gets to the very spirit of the piece. There are perhaps three elements to this – the film’s staggering mise-en-scène, the various technical elements of the filmmaking process (the choice and execution of shots and the way they are edited together to asynchronous sound) and the astonishing use of music. Kubrick’s mise-en-scène is closely informed by Alex’s first person narration. The film reflects the world as he sees it to the extent that the places where he feels ‘in his element’ (the Korova, the underpass by the Thames, the derelict casino, Alexander’s HOME, his bedroom, the disc-bootick, the Duke of New York pub, the Cat Lady’s house and places of his fantasy imagination [the Biblical scenes, the final orgy in the snow]) are super-cool extensions of this strutting young lad’s uninhibited libido. The places where he feels ‘out of his element’ (his home, the police station, prison, the two hospitals, the viewing theater) are ‘un-cool,’ clockwork-repressive threats to his libido. This dichotomy reflects two important binaries – the split between the id and the ego and the split between artistic creative freedom and artistic creative stultification. Contrast the mise-en-scène of Alex’s bedroom with the rest of the flat that surrounds it. The bedroom is the ultimate in ‘cool’ accurately reflecting a young man’s sexual virility combined with good taste and an appreciation of artistic beauty. The walls and the bedspread match and there’s a wicked state-of-the-art stereo system. The head of Beethoven looks down from a roller-blind and his death mask decorates a wall calendar. An icon depicting 4 Christ figures sits beside a wall picture showing a naked woman, legs a-spread with Alex’s pet snake (his libido) coiled as if ready to penetrate the vaginal orifice. The rest of the flat is a monument to plastic tack with his parents’ horrendous taste made obvious – blue and pink in the living room, orange, yellow and silver shining checkers in the kitchen, pink walls looking down on a green bedspread in the bedroom. His parents’ clothes are a nightmare of ill-fitting colours and designs to reflect the way this teenager in revolt sees them. The Cat Lady’s room is another example of filtering what we see through Alex’s mind. A misogynist’s ‘pussy-heaven’, we are shown cats everywhere and large pictures of naked women displaying their breasts and vaginas. The Cat Lady herself is first shown as one of these ‘artifacts’ as she lies in a leotard on the floor, backside up and legs over her shoulders with her ‘pussy’ facing the camera. When Alex enters we notice there are just two masculine items in the room, a bust of Beethoven and a huge Hans Arp-like sculpture of an erect penis. Together these symbolize Alex in toto and as the two face each other it is as a kind of masturbatory dance of orgasmic delight which climaxes with the penis being smashed into the Cat Lady’s face as she ‘meows’ in the form of oral copulation. This scene of Alex ‘at home’ is followed immediately by a scene where he is out in the cold in the police station faced by mechanical officers performing their clockwork tasks in a cold, featureless, sexless room – the corrective to the libidinal release of the previous scene.
The acting is closely informed by the mise-en-scène, Kubrick turning locations in Part 1 which reflected Alex’s libidinal rush into places in Part 3 which repress him with clockwork figures. The underpass turns from a stage for glorious violence (Part 1, Sc.1 ) into an arena for revenge (Part 3, Sc.1 ) as the tramp is attacked and then attacks back, and HOME turns from a stage for sexual abandon (Part 1, Sc.1 ) into a treacherous torture chamber (Part 3, Sc.1 ) as Alex first rapes and then is forced into suicide. Authority figures in Kubrick films are almost always sinister and there is no shortage of them here from smarmy Deltoid and sadistic policemen through dictatorial prison officials (Michael Bates giving an especially clockwork [and hilarious!] performance as the Chief Guard) to inhuman doctors (especially Carl Duering’s terrifying Dr. Brodsky delighting in Alex’s discomfort) and devious politicians on both sides of the political spectrum. Striding through the film capturing the journey from erotic abandon through repression and back again is Malcolm McDowell giving the performance of his life.
Closely informing the Kubrick’s creative choices is the central dialectic between artistic creative freedom and stultification. In Part 3, Chapter 5 of his book Burgess makes explicit the link between Mr. Alexander and Alex (“F. Alexander. Good Bog. I thought, he is another Alex”) and also the link between Alexander and himself for his character is the writer of the book ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Kubrick clearly identifies with Burgess as Alexander is linked with Alex. This means that the film may be a first person narrative told through the eyes of Alex, but he also stands for the director himself making for the film a meditation on artistic freedom stultified by the clockwork society which disallows the display of the id’s hidden impulses. Observe how the visual style of Part 1 clashes with that of Parts 2 and 3. In Part 1 Kubrick forefronts the artifice of filmmaking by throwing the entire toolbox of his trade into his depiction of the performing artist (himself!) in full libidinal release. The slow reverse dolly of the opening Korova sequence segues into the backlit attack on the tramp, the breathless editing of the casino fight, the use of ultra-wide angle lenses to distort perspectives, extreme close-ups for the attack on Alexander, quick-fire explosive editing for the montage showing Alex’s masturbatory fantasies, the tour-de-force 360º reverse track around the disc bootick, fast-motion for the William Tell orgy, slow motion for Alex’s attack on his droogs and hand-held sequences for the attacks on Mrs. Alexander and the Cat Lady. As Alex is turned into a clockwork orange by the mechanical state, the visual treatment becomes cold and static to represent the neutering of a creative artist. He is neutered most of all by being brainwashed propaganda-style to make him conform. The viewing theater sequence is at the center of the film no doubt because Kubrick wanted to forefront the fear of his artistic freedom being taken away. Part 3 is also static because the artist is bed-bound, but there is tremendous energy in a track in the hospital room when the doctor comes to give him his psychological test and there is great movement in the closing scene.
Kubrick makes multiple references to his own past films to further stamp his identity as Alex’s creative artist doppelgänger. In a sense the film starts where 2001 left off with a character eyeballing the screen looking directly out at us, the Star-Child having grown up to become Alex. The attack on the tramp is backlit noir-style to recall the attack on Davy Gordon in Killer’s Kiss and the final shot of The Killing as the three men advance on Johnny Clay. The mannequins in the derelict casino remind us of the mannequin factory fight in Killer’s Kiss and the way two droog gangs face off replays the two gangs of apes fighting over the waterhole at the start of 2001. The Durango 95 joy-ride is another Star-Gate sequence as the camera fixed on the side of the car whizzes through the night and the interior of HOME with futuristic red furniture on white walls remind us of Hilton Space Station 5 in the same film. The clown masks look back to the mask worn by Johnny Clay during the robbery in The Killing and the way Alex tells Alexander to “Viddy well little brother” equals Quilty asking Humbert “Do you like to watch captain?” in Lolita. Alex’s masturbatory fantasies include a Dr. Strangelove-like nuclear blast and the way Alex commands the space striding through the disc-bootick reminds us of Dax commanding his trench in Paths of Glory and Poole running around the centrifugal body of Discovery in 2001. The fight with the Cat Lady replays the fight in Killer’s Kiss replacing the pike and axe with the Beethoven bust and a giant phallus. If Alex and his droogs resemble 2001 apes rampaging over the detritus of the modern world and scrambling for bones to nourish themselves, Dim delivers the ultimate answer to Moon-Watcher’s bone by smashing Alex in the face with a bone-white bottle of milk. Dr. Strangelove reappears in two forms later on – Alex tied to his wheelchair in the viewing theater (the doctors at the back resembling the sinister figures sitting around the table in the War Room) and Alexander a cripple in a wheelchair. Among the plethora of Kubrickiana is the ritual final eating sequence where the Minister of the Interior feeds Alex. This looks back to the generals’ post-execution breakfast in Paths of Glory and Bowman’s meal at the end of 2001.
Lastly, charging everything with an even higher voltage is the extraordinary deployment of music which we notice not only heightens the emotions required for each scene (especially obvious in Part 1 where Alex’s libidinal rush is given the flavor of a dance), but is applied in binary form. The march from Purcell’s Queen Mary’s Funeral Music appears twice in Part 1, Sc.1, once in the major key , and once in the minor key [6-7]. This is balanced exactly in Part 3 where again it appears twice and again in the major (Sc.1 [3-4]) and then in the minor (Sc.2 ). Part 1 is dominated by Rossini’s overture ‘The Thieving Magpie’ which appears twice (Sc.1 [3-4] and Sc.2 [5-6]). Different parts of Beethoven’s Ninth appear twice, the scherzo second movement in Part 1, Sc.1  and in Part 3, Sc.1 ); the Turkish March section from the 4th movement in Part 1, Sc.2  and in Part 2, Sc.2 ; and the choral finale in Part 1, Sc.1  and in Part 3, Sc.2 . Rossini’s William Tell overture appears once in each part, the famous fast section for the Part 1 orgy (Sc.2 ) and the opening slow section in Part 2  and Part 3 . Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches appear twice, No.1 in Part 2, Sc.1  and No.4 in Part 2, Sc.2 . Even ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ gets binary presentation, once as Alex attacks the Alexanders (Part 1, Sc1 ) and then when he returns to the same place and sings in the bath (Part 3, Sc.1 ). Kubrick presents the music either naturally or played on a Moog synthesizer (brilliantly realized by Walter Carlos) so as to give a futuristic, satiric slightly off-kilter impression to match the playful use of extreme cinematic forms.
There is one word for all this – dazzling. Dazzling for the senses and dazzling for the brain. This is a film which compels you to return again and again to appreciate Kubrick’s satire, his savage wit, the fundamental mastery of his cinematic vision and his knowing grasp of what lies at the base of the human condition. The film remains disturbing because it remains deeply relevant. Unlike most dystopian visions, this is one that refuses to date. Highly recommended.
For the record, I love the book. It would be easy, then, to dismiss my disliking of the film as being no more than that I preferred my own vision of the story upon reading it. Alas, my reasons for not liking the film go far beyond this.
Firstly, and perhaps most significantly, I do not like Malcolm McDowell's reading of Alex at all. I find him tacky, annoying and not in the least fearsome. To be fair, Burgess wrote the infuriatingly tacky lingo that Alex uses in his relentless narration throughout the film, but I don't remember him describing Alex as an annoying, whiney Northerner.
It is not just the performance of Alex's character that misses the mark for me. Almost everyone in the film seems to think they're in an episode of Monty Python. Yes, I know it's meant to be satirical, but it's more parodical than anything. We're not laughing with it, we're laughing at it. You could be forgiven for assuming that every actor here thinks they're in a stage production and that we won't understand their character unless they shout and overact their way through each scene.
The production design is possibly an even greater crime. Rather than looking futuristic, the whole film looks so stuck n the '60s that I can't help but be completely detached from the action. The colour is overwhelming and the lighting only serves to enhance the feeling that this is a cheap TV episode, not a "classic" Warner production.
Don't even get me started about the cheesy, electronic renderings of Beethoven that plague almost every scene. What on earth were they thinking? Surely they knew that by using "state-of-the-art" synthesisers they were condemning the film to be out of date within five years. To begin with the music is mildly amusing. Soon it becomes tedious. Then downright annoying, like everything else in the film.
Quite simply, I just cannot take this film seriously. It has no impact whatsoever. Part of the film's longevity in the minds of moviegoers is said to be the controversy and the powerful, disturbing tone of the movie. Frankly, I found Bambi more disturbing, and a damn sight less tedious.
On that note, let me not forget how long, slow paced and drawn out every single scene is. By the 90 minute mark the film has gone past boring into something completely new. Needless to say, when the film finally ends, you'll find yourself struggling to resist the urge to follow Alex in jumping straight out the nearest window.
Worse is the changes to some of the key scenes. The couple who are visited by Alex and his friends become so weird that we can't feel any sympathy for them, while the two school girls that Alex rapes become willing participants in an afternoon of cartoon sex. And why does the old lady Alex robs and kills become twenty years younger and living in a house full of sexual fetishes.
Not to mention the totally gratutous nudity.
The final insult, of course, is that the film is based on the truncated American edition of the book. The final chapter is gone, totally missing the moral point that Burgess was making in the novel. If we accept the rights of humans to make free choices we must accept that they might make 'bad' choices. If we try to control these choices, where do we stop - a totalitarian state?
Such subtelties are totally missing from a film which, over the years has become laughably dated.
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