A Clockwork Orange - 1971
IMDB genre keywords: Crime, Drama, Sci-Fi
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess
Starring Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge, Patrick Magee as Frank Alexander, Carl Duering as Dr Brodsky
Music by Wendy Carlos (credited as Walter Carlos)

Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven.


Alex, and his three droogs Pete, Georgie and Dim, are a gang of murderous thugs who spend their evenings raping, pillaging, smashing and robbing, in a bleak, futuristic world. When Alex is caught, he wangles his way into an early prison release by volunteering for an experimental technique to "cure" him of his violent tendencies. Alex thinks this will be an easy way out, but gets crippling pains whenever he even thinks of anything violent. He is kidnapped by a writer he tormented back in his gang days, and it looks like suicide is the only way out...

Why You Should Watch/Rent/Buy This:

Oh, lordy lordy, what to say about this movie that hasn't been said a thousand times before? If, by some amazing chance, you haven't seen this yet, then I implore you to immediately split an infinitive and go now, get thee to a video shop, rent out the DVD (apparently this was shot in fullscreen format, and cropped for widescreen, Kubrick hating the widescreen ratio and stereo sound, for some reason - I think it looks better cropped to widescreen, but you shouldn't be missing anything out whatever version you get - thanks to belgand for alerting me to this), turn off the phone, and watch it. There is a 50-50 chance you will love this movie. Either that, or you will think it is a vile, despicable piece of filth, and switch off ten minutes into it. If you can stomach it, and stick with it, you will be rewarded by one of the most powerful, intense, thought provoking pieces of cinema ever created.

Let's get things nice and crystal clear from the start: this is my favourite movie, of all time, ever. I have watched it over and over and over, I mouth the dialogue when the characters speak, I get tears in my eyes at the sheer beauty of the shot composition. Stanley Kubrick is my favourite director. This is not going to be an objective review. Apologies in advance.

I read the book long after seeing the movie, and it is, as dannye up there says, a masterpiece. I disagree on one point though: both book and movie will be around forever. When you see the first page of the book, you think, shit, it's all written in funnytalk, this is going to be a hell of a chore. But as soon as you start reading, the language flows, the words fit in juuuust right, the context of the strange, new words means you're never at a loss. It's as if you're reading a foreign language you've never studied, but somehow understanding it. Remember the part in The Hunt For Red October when they're all talking Russian, it zooms in on Connery's mouth, and suddenly it's all in English (with a Scottish accent, of course)? That's what it's like. Buy the book. You'll be fine.

But this writeup is about the movie. I remember the first time I saw it, at the film society at my poly, which introduced me to many classics. I'd heard of it, seen the posters, knew it was a controversial, banned, violent work - but had no idea what to expect. Ten minutes into it, I was considering walking out. Not because the violence shocked me, but I thought if it's just violence all the way through and nothing else, no plot, then what's the point? But I stuck it out. And oh, Mr Kubrick had such sights to show me...

The outfits. The bowler hats. The one eyelash. The bizarre, 60's/70's, curved future world. The acting. The atmosphere. The styling. The shot composition. The wide angle lenses. The horrific acts of violence beautifully choreographed to classical music. The Beethoven. The gobsmacking performance by McDowell, which he's never topped since (dude, the last half decent movie you were in was Star Trek: Generations - what's going on?) The plot twists. The milk bottle in the face. The arrest. The prison. The dreams. The Ludovico technique. The sheer horror of the eyeball scene. The pain. The demonstration. The pseudo redemption. The rejection. The capture. The torture. The leap. The hospital. The eggiwegs ("I'd like to smash em!"). The minister. The proposition. The seriously fucked up ending. The raping, killing, beating, hooting, laughing, dancing, screaming, howling other-worldliness of it all. I had never seen anything like it, and haven't ever since.

Kubrick knows how to use his wide angle lenses, knows exactly where to put things, loves his symmetrical shots, loves his corridors (Kubrick Corridors, I call them), loves his tracking shots, his steadicam, his frozen faces. Some elements of the film, like the 60's/70's vision of the future styles (round chairs, cars, clothes etc) have dated a bit, but the rest is sharp as the knife Alex cuts Dim's hand with. The shot when the boys come through the tunnel, their shadows stretching out ahead of them, is on countless postcards and posters. Some of the language - droogs, rassoodocks, gulliver, tolchock, etc - has entered popular culture, as has the rest of the film. Nearly every other Simpsons episode has a Clockwork Orange tribute - remember the bit when Bart is conditioned against fairy cakes by Lisa? He reaches up for the two breast-shaped cakes, trying to cup them, before collapsing in a heap? Or, even better, the scene where his dog is conditioned to become a killer, eyeballs pinned open, being shown films of dogfood bowls being kicked over, snouts being struck with rolled up newspapers, and so on? Sheer class.

The music. Ah, the music. Carlos' interpretations of classical pieces with the synthesizer should be awful, shockingly bad, but somehow they work, resulting in one of the best movie soundtracks ever. I have no idea why they work so well, why I love them, but I don't care. The music for the opening sequence is one of the most powerful, disturbing pieces ever recorded. The moment when Alex realises that not only have they conditioned him against violence, but also Beethoven, is a shocker. The doctors are merely slightly amused by this "interesting" development, but to Alex they have taken away the one thing that can really tame him. Some of the classical pieces are the normal vanilla versions, but no less powerful - when Rossini's Thieving Magpie underscores a brutal gang fight, you feel like you're watching a musical, albeit one that's a bit more violent than usual. There is an extended version of the soundtrack available now, with many more of Carlos' pieces on there, so even if you already have it, it's well worth getting hold of the new copy - the catalogue number is 813622 (the original is 7599272562).

Does Alex have a choice? Has he really become "good", or is he just unable to commit evil? If this technique works, should we use it on all violent prisoners? Interesting questions back in 1971, but especially so now. He's a despicable character, but you can't help liking the bastard. The greatest mindfuck of the film is that you actually end up feeling sorry for the murderous scumbag, and angry towards the writer who's tormenting him - despite the fact that Alex raped his wife and almost beat the guy to death! By the time he's shaking hands with the minister, doing the cheesy thumbs up for the cameras, grinning like a loon, you're delighted. Partly for Alex, but mainly because it's such a naughty way to end the film - when I think about it in depth like this, I'm freaked out that I can be so easily led, but when I'm watching the film I'm just like "Yeah, go for it Alex!" It gets inside your head and casually flicks the morality switch off for a while. Now that's disturbing cinema.

It's not for everyone. You might not like it, you might hate it, you might think it's just shite, and that's okay. But give it a go. You might just have found yourself a new favourite movie.

The "Ban":

Contrary to popular belief, A Clockwork Orange was never actually banned in the UK. When it was originally released here, it caused a storm of controversy, much like the rabid frenzy when Crash came out more recently. It was generally well received though, people liked it, and it did very well.

And then the copycat crimes began. A girl was raped by a gang who sang Singin' In The Rain. A tramp was kicked to death by a teenager wearing the outfit of Alex and his droogs. Sad little turds who would have committed the crimes anyway copied the film's style, and the film itself was unjustly blamed. As Burgess said at the time "Neither cinema nor literature can be blamed for original sin. A man who kills his uncle cannot justifiably blame a performance of Hamlet."

But Kubrick was horrified. Instead of people being freaked out by Alex's behaviour, they loved it, even egging him on (ahem... wouldn't catch me doing that...) A combination of things - the copycat crimes, the misinterpretation, and death threats to Kubrick's family - led him to withdraw the film from release himself. It was never banned officially, Kubrick just said that it was not to be released again in the UK until after his death. When he died, I felt sad that there would be no more masterpieces from the man, but took solace in the fact that I could finally see his best film where it belonged - on the big screen. And oh my brothers, when that day finally arrived, when I sat in front of that cinema screen and watched Kubrick's masterpiece unfolding in front of me, it was gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh.

Most Excellent Movie Trivia:

Most of the exteriors were shot in Thamesmead, London SE28, a new development at the time. The tunnel Alex and his droogs walk through to beat up the tramp is near the Tavy Bridge shopping centre, if you want to take photographs of you and your mates casting shadows at night. You'll need a fucking huge movie spotlight to get the look right, though. Tramp not included.

For the leap out of the window near the end, Kubrick trashed six camera lenses heaving a bloody big camera off the side of a house - when one finally landed face down, the shot was in the can.

That eyeball scene - McDowell had one of his corneas scratched while filming it, and was temporarily blinded. McDowell remembers the doctor employed to play the person dripping water into his eyes being more concerned with his own performance than keeping his eyes moist.

The book was published in America minus Chapter 21, which has Alex settling down and reforming his wild ways. Contrary to popular belief, Kubrick had no idea of the existence of the missing chapter, until he'd nearly finished his screenplay adaptation. However, when he discovered it, he decided to leave it out anyway, partly because it was at such a late stage, but mainly because he felt it didn't work at all, and thought it was false and unbelievable. I don't think it would have worked in the movie either, but it works fine in the book.

David Prowse plays the weird bodybuilder in the writer's house towards the end, the one whose shorts are far, far too tight. After repeated takes where he had to carry the writer in the wheelchair down some steps, he refused to do any more, exhausted. When Kubrick said that he'd hired him because he was a big, strong weightlifter, Prowse pointed out that men in wheelchairs were hardly standard gym equipment.

Philip Stone, who plays Alex's dad, was the sinister caretaker/waiter in The Shining. "I had to... correct them, sir..." He also turns up in Barry Lyndon, as Graham.

In the record shop scene, if you look closely you can see a copy of the soundtrack album for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also in the shop, the top 10 list features a band called "The Heaven Seventeen", a name pinched by Heaven 17 (they briefly considered Goggly Gogol, but it didn't have quite the same ring to it).

"CRM 114" crops up in Kubrick's movies now and again. Alex is given Serum 114 during his "treatment" - serum/CRM. In Dr. Strangelove, the decoder machine is the CRM-114. In Eyes Wide Shut, the morgue is in the C wing, 1st floor, room 14 - C (wing) RM (room) 1 (1st floor) 14. In Back to the Future, this can also be seen on the big-ass amplifier Marty plugs his guitar into, but I don't know if this is an intentional reference or not. There's no big mystery of where it came from - it first appeared in Dr. Strangelove, because it came from the book it was based on, Red Alert by Peter Bryant - as in the film, it was just the name of the decoder machine. There is speculation that it has some other hidden, clever meaning, but it was probably just a little jokey thing Kubrick did that everyone, including me, is taking way too seriously...

Why does Alex suddenly start singing Singin In The Rain during the rape scene? Kubrick told McDowell to sing something, and it was the only song McDowell knew all the words to. Although he clearly has trouble with lyrics, as he repeats the same set twice. According to Kubrick, Gene Kelly never spoke to him again after he saw the film.

In Barry Lyndon, there is a painting by an artist called Ludovico - the name of the technique used to condition Alex.

When Alex meets Georgie and Dim after they've joined the police force, their badge numbers are 665 and 667. Presumably this would make Alex 666. (Unless it's Pete, who obviously didn't make it as a copper, and ended up working in Burger King or something).

Entirely from memory, geekiness and love, except for:

IMDB for the cast list and genre keywords
www.geocities.com/malcolmtribute/aco/acoarticles.html for the details of the copycat crimes and Burgess quote
Kubrick FAQ at www.visual-memory.co.uk for the source of the CRM 114 thing, and the Eyes Wide Shut CRM 114 reference.

Visit beautiful Thamesmead! Okay, it's just Thamesmead: www.guardian.co.uk/arts/story/0,3604,181465,00.html