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Clockwork Orange, A
UK 1971
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Running time 131 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars


It is no accident that Kubrick’s film was released within weeks of Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs both films featuring high levels of violence including a rape scenes. Such were the temper of times.

In a classic case of a career peaking too early Malcolm McDowell in his most memorable screen role is marvellous as Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) a vicious little popinjay who lives in a council flat with his Ma and Pa (Philip Stone and Sheila Raynor) and indulges his passion for  violence ( the old ultra-v), sex (the old in-out, in-out) and Beethoven (the old Ludwig van) with his the aid if his "droogs". When two of the latter, Dim (Warren Clarke) and Georgie (James Marcus) ,rail against Alex’s authoritarian leadership he thrashes them. In retaliation they set him up and Alex is caught by the police and sentenced to 14 years in prison. But Alex sees a way out and volunteers for an experimental brain-washing cure. It works  but Alex as he is unable to cope with the violence that is endemic in the everyday world, becomes a political pawn

Today although violence and sex are far more explicit (compare for instance Bronson) there still audiences who will have trouble with the content of A Clockwork Orange although there are few who would dispute the mastery of Kubrick’s direction.  From the opening shot, a slow zoom into Alex’s eyes the pulls back to reveal him and his droogs in the Korova milk bar, Kubrick carefully orchestrates each scene and builds them into a tightly controlled whole.

the resonance of A Clockwork Orange is to be found as much, if not more, in its style as in its content, the film shifting between ultra-chic modernist design and its kitsch offshoots, brutalist architecture and deserted  public  spaces. Whilst part of the success of the film derives from Burgess’s novel with its memorable argot (its vocabulary derived from Russian) the retro-futuristic art direction and wardrobe and set design, aided by some well-chosen location photography create not just a convincing alternative universe for the action but keep the film in a allegorical mode rather than the traditionally emotionally-invested violence seen in Peckinpah’s film.  Not that this was so evident in its day. Burgess tried to stop the film’s release in the UK and after copy-cat crimes Kubrick withdrew IT from British distribution until after his death.

FYI: David Prowse, who plays male nurse of the wheelchair-bound Patrick Magee would go onto a career high playing Darth Vader.

 

 

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