A Clockwork Orange

Movie Information

A Clockwork Orange is part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World being presented at 8 p.m. Friday, April 25, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Genre: Sci-Fi Fantasy Satire
Director: Stanley Kubrick (The Shining)
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Philip Stone, Aubrey Morris, Anthony Sharp
Rated: R

Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) is one of those rare films—like Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) and Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971)—that manages to retain the controversy surrounding its original release despite the passage of time. That might seem a small accomplishment, but really what is generally more old hat than last week’s controversy? Yet, here we have a film that has managed to keep the controversy going for 37 years and still counting. We might be past the shock of the originally X-rated film snagging a Best Picture nomination from the Oscar folks, but you can go to the IMDb message boards this very minute and find people still fighting over whether or not A Clockwork Orange is a work of art or merely an exercise in stylized violence and ugliness.

For that matter, the story of Alex (Malcolm McDowell), his crimes against society, his imprisonment, his radical “cure,” the vengeance exacted on him by someone he wronged and his ultimate re-empowerment is one that took me years to come to terms with. It was at a showing—easily the sixth or seventh time I’d seen the film—in the late 1970s when the film came into focus for me. The volume was turned way up (as I believe it ought to be with this film) and suddenly things that seemed awkward and overstated fell into place, and I realized that much of the film is meant to be taken as pitch-black—even heartless—comedy. That’s only part of the film, of course, but it’s essential to understanding the movie’s operatic nature and thematic points about freewill, the inherent insanity (and duplicity) of either end of the political spectrum and, very significantly, that we get out of great art pretty much only what we bring to it.

Technically, the film is a marvel. It’s easily Kubrick’s best and boldest work, which may have something to do with the fact that he didn’t overcook it, making it for a relatively small budget in a comparatively short amount of time (a year from the start of shooting to release). The lighting, the camerawork, the matching of music to image all come together to provide a cinematic kick that still resonates.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

7 thoughts on “A Clockwork Orange

  1. boob screen

    Re: “easily Kubrick’s best and boldest work”, I don’t know if you meant technically or best overall, but you’d be wrong either way. Technically 2001 is clearly his best, irrespective of the year it was made.
    2001 gets my vote for Kubrick’s best work, followed closely by Eyes Wide Shut and Lyndon.
    I agree with you about the humor of Clockwork and re: political extremes, but ultimately Clockwork is pretty one dimensional. True it’s a visual and aural treat, but Kubrick’s exploration of freewill, the nature of evil, etc… goes nowhere beyond the parson’s statement, and it’s just not that powerful.
    I think Kubrick robbed himself when he chose not to explore the final chapter of the novel, in which Alex contemplates having a child. If I remember correctly, Burgess believed Kubrick thought the idea to “goody goody”. The only comment I recall Kubrick making (and this might have been per Burgess) is that he thought the film would be stronger without it, but why – ultimately – do people want children? This might have afforded a thought-provoking coda.
    I think Kubrick enjoyed making the film and it shows. You could argue it’s the best “Hollywood” film ever made and one of the wittiest, but not his best.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Well, you’re at liberty to disagree, of course, but in my view it is Kubrick’s best film, while I wouldn’t even put the three you prefer into a list of his better films. Of course, if you reduce the level of CLOCKWORK ORANGE simply to the question of freewill, then there isn’t much to it. But since I’d argue that that is only one aspect of it, I feel you’re shorting the film. I’m not at all sure how you can term the film “Hollywood” with or without the quotation marks. If anything, it’s Kubrick’s one aggressively British film. If you’re strictly referring to it having a major studio release, I’d hardly call it the best such.

  3. Adam Renkovish

    This is definitely one of Kubrick’s best. I saw it for the first time about four years ago, and it floored me. I can’t say that I was entertained by it, but it is definitely an experience. Malcom McDowell is amazing – and I love the score.

  4. Dionysis

    Just one more ‘amen’ here; while I’ve enjoyed most of Kubrick’s films, to me, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is hands-down his best film. While 2001 has many fans, and it certainly was visually impressive, I just never saw what the big deal was all about. When comparing the two films today, ORANGE holds up much better.

    Malcolm McDowell sure has played some unusual characters before. I’d like to see O! LUCKY MAN again, as I only vaguely recall it from its initial release. I do remember the refrain “chocolate sandwich,” though.

  5. Steven

    [b]while I wouldn’t even put the three you prefer into a list of his better films[/b]

    What would you say his best films are?

  6. Mehdi

    that’s my raking of kubrick’s best movies
    1-2001: A Space odyssey
    2-Eyes wide shut
    3-Clockwork orange
    5-Barry Lyndon

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