TLR Rating: 9 Reels.
Without a doubt this Stanley Kubrick film is one of the most controversial movies of all time. The immoral violence shown in a very detailed, colorful and exquisitely photographed manner helped it to be so. On the soundtrack we hear Henry Purcell’s almost comically elegant ‘Music Composed for Queen Mary’s Funeral’. On the screen we see a close-up portrait of Alex (Malcolm McDowell), who for a moment, is uncharacteristically still. The face looks floodlit, as if caught by one of those automatic photo machines in a bus station.
However, the eyes, one of which is ringed by false lashes, reveal an intelligence. And that is no less alive for being occupied momentarily, with the kind of drug fantasies that Alex and his ‘droogs’ are able to buy at the ‘Kerova Milkbar’. Hallucinated, they enter the London night in search of the old ultra-violence. There’s always the chance they’ll find a dirty old man to beat up, or some frightened ‘devotchka’ for a ‘malenky’ bit of in-out, in-out.
Thus begins ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s perversely moral and essentially Christian novel is about the value of free will. This independence exists even if the choice exercised is to tear through the night, robbing, raping and battering the citizens until they lie helpless and covered with what Alex describes happily as “the real red vino,” or ‘krovvy’.
In both English and ‘Nadsat’, the combination of Anglicized Russian, Gypsy, rhyming slang and associative words spoken by Alex and his teenage friends is in what seems to be 1983. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is a great deal more than merely horror show. It is ‘Nadsat’ for good. It is brilliant, a tour de force of extraordinary images, music, words and feelings, a much more original achievement for commercial films than the Burgess novel is for literature. Burgess, after all, has some impossibly imposing literary antecedents, including the work of Joyce.
The film, which opened yesterday at the Cinema I, is cast in the form of futurist fiction. But it is neither a spin-off from Mr. Kubrick’s ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’, nor is it truly futurist – if that means it is one of those things-to-come fantasies. More correctly it contemplates the nightmares of today, often in terms that reflect the 1950’s and 1960’s, out of which the Burgess novel grew. It is also (at least it seems to me) an essentially British nightmare (while ‘A Space Odyssey’ was essentially American) in its attentions to caste, manners, accents and the state of mind created by a kind of weary socialism.
The movie shows a lot of aimless violence but it is as formally structured as the music of Alex’s ‘Lovely Lovely Ludwig Van’ which inspires in Alex sado-masochistic dreams of hangings, volcanic eruptions and other disasters.
Alex is a terrifying character, but also an intelligent, funny and pathetic one. His spiritual crucifixion comes when having been jailed for murder, he is subjected to the ‘Ludovico’ Treatment. Alex is one of the early guinea pigs in a rehabilitation program that involves the conditioning of his responses, via the nonstop viewing of sex, horror and atrocity movies. At the end of two weeks, he is left as dumb and defenseless as a defanged, declawed animal.
Impulses to hate, anger and lust make him physically ill. He has become a model of good, ‘as decent a lad as you would meet on a May morning’. But, as his fundamentalist prison chaplain points out, he is without a soul. Under these circumstances, Alex’s eventual return to his original ‘free’ state becomes an ironic redemption. Yet not much attention is paid to the fact that ‘Alex the Hood’ is as much a product of conditioning as was the denatured Alex, the product of aversion therapy.
However, I won’t quibble over the point. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is so beautiful to look at and to hear that it dazzles the senses and the mind, even as it turns the old real red vino to ice: Alex and his friends having a rumble with a rival gang to the tune of Rossini’s ‘The Thieving Magpie’, or preparing a gang rape in the home of a definitely upper-class writer as Alex does a lyric soft-shoe (into the stomach and face of the writer), singing ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. That’s the sort of thing that makes Alex feel all nice and warm in his ‘guttywuts’.
McDowell is splendid as tomorrow’s child, but it is always Mr. Kubrick’s picture, which is even technically more interesting than ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’. Among other devices, Mr. Kubrick constantly uses what I assume to be a wide-angle lens to distort space relationships within scenes, so that the disconnection between lives, and between people and environment, becomes an actual, literal fact. At one point in his therapy, Alex says: “The colors of the real world only become real when you viddy them in a film.” ‘A Clockwork Orange’ makes real and important the kind of fears simply exploited by other, much lesser films.
The author is a huge movie buff with special interest in neo-noir and sci-fi genres. When he gets tired of watching movies, he watches more of them.