A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange
Alex: Malcolm McDowell
Dim: Warren Clarke
Georgie: James Marcus
Pete: Michael Tarn
Mr. Alexander: Patrick Magee
Mrs. Alexander: Adrienne Corri
Deltoid: Aubrey Morris
Catlady: Miriam Karlin
Minister: Anthony Sharp

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick
Based on a novel by Anthony Burgess
Cinematography: John Alcott
Production design: John Barry
Costume design: Milena Canonero
Film editing: Bill Butler

Any movie that was panned by Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, and Roger Ebert can't be all bad, can it? A Clockwork Orange remains one of Stanley Kubrick's most popular films, with an 8.4 rating on IMDb and a 90% fresh rating (93% audience score) on Rotten Tomatoes.  I think it's a tribute to Kubrick that the movie can elicit such widely divergent responses. I can see what Kael, Sarris, and Ebert are complaining about while at the same time admitting that the film is undeniably entertaining in a "horrorshow" way: that being both novelist Anthony Burgess's Nadsat coinage from the Russian word "khorosho," meaning "good," and the English literal sense. For it is a kind of horror movie, with Alex as the monster spawned by modern society -- implacable, controlled only by the most drastic and abhorrent means, in this case a kind of behavioral conditioning. Watching it this time I was struck by how much the aversion therapy to which Alex is subjected reminds me of the attempts to convert gay people to heterosexuality. Which is not to say that Kubrick's film isn't exploitative in the extreme, relying on images of violence and sexuality that almost justify Kael's suggestion that Kubrick is a kind of failed pornographer. It is not the kind of movie that should go without what today are called "trigger warnings." What's good about A Clockwork Orange is certainly Malcolm McDowell's performance as Alex, one of the few really complex human beings in Kubrick's caricature-infested films. Some of his most memorable scenes in the movie were partly improvised, as when he sings "Singin' in the Rain" during his attack on the Alexanders, and when he opens his mouth like a bird when the minister of the interior is feeding him. Kubrick received three Oscar nominations, as producer, director, and screenwriter, and film editor Bill Butler was also nominated, but the movie won none, losing in all four categories to The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971). It deserved nominations not only for McDowell, but also for John Alcott's cinematography and John Barry's production design.