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A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Stanley Kubrick

Related: Anthony Burgess - 1971 - 1962 - Stanley Kubrick - violent film

Essays: Clockwork Orange and the Aestheticization of Violence () - Alexander J. Cohen

Film contributors: Allen Jones (furniture in the Korova Milkbar) - Wendy Carlos (score)

If 1971 was the year of cinematic violence, (Straw Dogs and Dirty Harry come to mind), than Clockwork was the bleakest and most violent example. [Apr 2006]

Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Stanley Kubrick [Amazon.com]

Alex's aversion therapy

Description (novel)

A Clockwork Orange (1962) - Anthony Burgess [Amazon US]
Set a few years in the future, the book follows the career of fifteen year old Alex (his full name is revealed in the movie as Alexander de Large). His main pleasures in life are classical music, rape, and random acts of extreme violence ("ultraviolence" in Alex's idiom). Alex roams the streets at night with his gang, committing crimes for enjoyment, while no one attempts to stop them or the other gangs that ravage the community. He tells his story in a teenage slang called "Nadsat", which combines eighteenth-century Russian and English slang.

Eventually Alex is incarcerated and "rehabilitated" by a program of aversion therapy. However, the experiment is nothing more than a harsh exercise in behavioral conditioning that strips Alex of his free will. Though it renders him incapable of violence (even in self-defence), it also makes him unable to enjoy his favourite classical music, an unintended side effect.

The moral issue at stake within the book is that Alex is now "good", but his ability to decide this for himself has been taken from him; his "goodness" is as artificial as the clockwork orange of the book's title. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Clockwork_Orange [Jun 2005]

Description (film)

A Clockwork Orange (1971) - Stanley Kubrick [Amazon.com]

The book was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, starring Malcolm McDowell as Alex and featuring a soundtrack by Wendy Carlos. It would appear, from one of Burgess' later novels, The Clockwork Testament, that Burgess himself may not have been too pleased by the adaptation that made it to the screen.

Rated X on its original release in the United States, the film was nonetheless nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture (it lost to The French Connection) and reinvigorated sales for recordings of Beethoven's ninth symphony. Later, a censored R-rated version was also released in the US; both the original X-rated and the later R-rated version are today available on VHS and DVD. Notably, the MPAA has since reclassified the X-rated version of the film to R. The film was rated C (for "condemned") by the United States Catholic Conference's Office for Film and Broadcasting because of its explicit sexual and violent content (such a rating conceptually forbade Catholics from seeing the film so rated; the "condemned" rating was abolished in 1982, and since then films deemed by the conference to have unacceptable levels of sex and/or violence have been rated O, meaning "morally offensive").

In Britain the sexual violence in the film was considered extreme at the time, with the press blaming the influence of the film for an attack on a homeless person. It was widely believed that Kubrick's annoyance at this response led to him withdrawing the film from distribution in the United Kingdom. However, in a television documentary made after Kubrick's death, his widow Christiane confirmed rumours that Kubrick had withdrawn A Clockwork Orange from UK distribution on police advice after threats were made against Kubrick and his family. (The source of the threats was not discussed.) That Warner Bros. acceded to Kubrick's request to withdraw the film is an indication of the remarkable relationship Kubrick had with the studio, particularly the executive Terry Semel. Whatever the reason for the film's withdrawal, it could not easily be seen in Britain for some 27 years, until after Kubrick's death.

In 2004 the magazine Total Film named A Clockwork Orange the eleventh greatest British film of all time. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Clockwork_Orange#Film_adaptation [Feb 2005]

X Rating [...]

A Clockwork Orange inspired a variety of responses from different members of British society. John Trevelyan, Chairman of The British Board of Film Classification (1956-71), who passed the film with an "X" certificate said it was "...an important social document of outstanding brilliance and quality".[1] On the other hand according to the spokesperson of the so-called "silent moral majority"[2], Mary Whitehouse, it was "sickening and disgusting...I had to come out after twenty minutes"[3]. To MPs such as Maurice Edelman, A Clockwork Orange was an incitement to violent crime -- "...the adventures of the psychotic Alix[sic] rampaging to music, are likely to have a more sinister effect on those who see for the first time see a fantasy realised on the screen. -- a fantasy of exciting violence."[4] But for the young themselves it was "a subversive tribute to the glory of youth"[5] --Christian Bugge via http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0012.html

External links

  • http://www.nitrateonline.com/2000/fcwo-1.html

    Sexual violence

    Many memorable, disturbing sequences, including a rape conducted while assailant McDowell belts "Singing in the Rain."

    Copy cat crimes

    The problems really started when the press reported a spate of supposed copy-cat crimes. The first and most famous of these was the case involving a 16 year old boy called James Palmer who had beaten to death a tramp in Oxfordshire. As Edward Laxton reported in the Daily Mirror, in a convincing enough manner that the more reactionary reader might suspect that, A Clockwork Orange was terrible enough to influence even the most unassuming and hitherto quite innocent of young men, it was clear that the press were going to make the film even more controversial. "The terrifying violence of the film A Clockwork Orange fascinated a quiet boy from a Grammar School...And it turned him into a brutal murderer". Laxton continues, "The boy viciously battered to death a harmless old tramp as he acted out in real life a scene straight from the movie A Clockwork Orange"[31] --http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0012.html

    Amazon review

    Stanley Kubrick's striking visual interpretation of Anthony Burgess's famous novel is a masterpiece. Malcolm McDowell delivers a clever, tongue-in-cheek performance as Alex, the leader of a quartet of droogs, a vicious group of young hoodlums who spend their nights stealing cars, fighting rival gangs, breaking into people's homes, and raping women. While other directors would simply exploit the violent elements of such a film without subtext, Kubrick maintains Burgess's dark, satirical social commentary. We watch Alex transform from a free-roaming miscreant into a convict used in a government experiment that attempts to reform criminals through an unorthodox new medical treatment. The catch, of course, is that this therapy may be nothing better than a quick cure-all for a society plagued by rampant crime. A Clockwork Orange works on many levels--visual, social, political, and sexual--and is one of the few films that hold up under repeated viewings. Kubrick not only presents colorfully arresting images, he also stylizes the film by utilizing classical music (and Wendy Carlos's electronic classical work) to underscore the violent scenes, which even today are disturbing in their display of sheer nihilism. Ironically, many fans of the film have missed that point, sadly being entertained by its brutality rather than being repulsed by it. --Bryan Reesman, Amazon.com


    1. A Clockwork Orange: Wendy Carlos's Complete Original Score (1971) - Wendy Carlos [Amazon.com]
      One of the most satisfying soundtrack "companion" pieces ever released, this collaboration between synthesist Wendy Carlos and producer Rachel Elkind manages to both logically extend and credibly expand on director Stanley Kubrick's masterfully conceived Clockwork Orange musical ethos. That shouldn't be surprising, as the pair was largely responsible for initiating those concepts with the music they'd begun as a follow-up to their successful, synthesizer-pioneering Switched on Bach collection. "Timesteps," a rich, wildly evocative, 13+ minute electronic sound and music collage, was based on impressions gleaned from Anthony Burgess's original novel (excerpts of it are liberally scattered throughout the film), while an abridged version of the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was an early experiment in vocal synthesis that ended up as one of the film's key motifs. Also featured here are synthesized versions of music Kubrick ultimately chose to use in orchestral form (Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie") as well as original Carlos/Elkind electronic compositions ("Orange Minuet," "Biblical Daydreams," and "Country Lane") that ended up on the cutting-room floor. Composed on primitive, monophonic analog instruments (which could play only one at a time!) long supplanted by generations of digital revolution, this work has a brooding otherworldly quality all its own. As our favorite Droog would say: "It was like a bird of rarest spun metal, or like silvery wine flowing in a space ship, gravity all nonsense now." --Jerry McCulley, Amazon.com

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