“One thing I could never stand was to see a filthy, dirty old drunkie, howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blurp blurp in between as it might be a filthy old orchestra in his stinking, rotten guts. I could never stand to see anyone like that, whatever his age might be, but more especially when he was real old like this one was,” says Alex DeLarge.
Master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick spent four years bringing 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to life. After such a monumental achievement (it nabbed him his only Academy Award), he set his sights on making a film about Napoleon Bonaparte. After financing fell through right before the start of production, he searched for another project and found one in the form of a futuristic Anthony Burgess novel with a very interesting title (which describes someone or something that is organic on the outside but mechanical on the inside). Although I’d seen A Clockwork Orange a few times as part of my film studies during college, I’d always wanted to see it on the big screen. I finally got the chance to see Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange at the IFC Center in New York City over three years ago as part of a complete Kubrick retrospective. It was a joy to finally experience on the big screen at last!
1971’s A Clockwork Orange follows the incredible journey of a teenage delinquent in near-future Great Britain as he shifts from violent gang leader to prisoner to test subject in experimental psychological conditioning by the government (and beyond). Kubrick assembled a terrific cast that included Malcolm McDowell (as Alex De Large), Patrick Magee (as Frank Alexander), Michael Bates (as Chief Guard Barnes), Warren Clarke (as Dim), James Marcus (as Georgie), Adrienne Corri (as Mary Alexander), Steven Berkoff (as Detective Constable Tom), David Prowse (as Julian), John Clive (as the Stage Actor), Paul Farrell (as the Tramp), Miriam Karlin (as the Cat Lady), Godfrey Quigley (as the Prison Chaplain), and Anthony Sharp (as the Minister of the Interior). McDowell gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the youth gang leader who suffers a reversal of fortune as his ultra-violent ways get the better of him. For such a horrendous character (perhaps the personification of evil), McDowell’s portrayal of Alex is so charismatic that he makes the young sociopath entertaining and almost sympathetic. Magee is quite memorable as the dissident writer and victim of Alex’s brutality. His performance really gets turned up when his now-disabled writer encounters a “cured” Alex and slowly recognizes his voice (the scene where Mr. Alexander insists that Alex consume food and wine is one of my favorites).
The Oscar-nominated screenplay by Kubrick (adapted from the Burgess novel) explores the themes of morality, what it is to be truly good, and the effectiveness of psychological conditioning (including the loss of the freedom of choice). John Alcott’s cinematography makes great use of extreme wide-angle lenses, creating a dream-like imagery. John Barry’s production design makes use of actual locations to create futuristic-looking, dystopian architecture. Bill Butler’s Oscar-nominated editing moves the film along at a great pace (the slow and fast motion sequences are among my favorite sequences). Wendy Carlos delivers a very effective score that adapts works of classical music, including pieces by Gioachino Rossini and Ludwig Van Beethoven (the performances via synthesizer add to the eerieness of the score despite the familiarity of the classical pieces). Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is an Oscar-nominated classic (it also received nods for Best Director and Picture) that features a career-best performance from Malcolm McDowell that lingers and haunts long after the end of the film. It questions the morality of psychological conditioning and the loss of one’s humanity as a result, and is quite entertaining and shocking along the way. Don’t miss an opportunity to see it on the big screen!