5.23.2008

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

DIRECTED BY
Stanley Kubrick

STARRING
Malcolm McDowell - Alex DeLarge
Patrick Magee - Frank Alexander
Warren Clarke - Dim
James Marks - Georgie
Carl Dwering - Dr. Brodsky
Madge Ryan - Dr. Branom


Year - 1971

Running Time - 137 minutes

Score - 4 Howls Outta 4


In the history of films, there are movies when first released that have generated a ton of controversy. Films like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, and currently Uwe Boll's POSTAL have all suffered or gained from a level of publicity that surrounding them before the film was even available for a viewing. Usually, the controversy is unwarranted because the films usually don't live up to it and end up being just a movie. But in conversative America, there are alot of people out there who take films literally and don't appreciate the fact that the filmmakers are attempting to express some sort of message by creating a work of art. One of these films had a ton of controversy surrounding it, although more in Europe than in the United States, to the point where it was banned in England until 1999. And that film is Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. And like all the other films I mentioned, the controversy was for nothing as A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is just a great film if you're willing to open your mind and think outside the box.

PLOT
In a future society, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) and his three droogs [a.k.a. friends] are four troublemakers who enjoy drinking drugged milk out of the breasts of female statues in order to get into the mood to be ultraviolent. The four droogs go out on the town for a night of rampage and destruction, beating up a homeless drunk, fighting another group of gang members, and stopping at a house to rape a woman while her beaten up husband (Patrick Magee) is forced to watch. After Alex has some fun on his own with a couple of dames, Alex's droogs [tired of being ordered around] beat up Alex during a failed rape attempt on some girl who he kills with some artwork.

Alex is then sent to prison to serve time for rape and murder, but Alex finds the whole thing amusing by wondering what kind of violent trouble he can get into behind prison walls. He even uses the Bible to entertain himself with its stories and to trick people in thinking he's a changed man. Because of this manipulation, Alex is picked for some kind of clinical therapy treatment that, if successful, would turn Alex's violent tendecies off and cure him of all sin before being released from prison. Alex feels he'll be able to beat the system in order to get out and continue doing what he did before. But Alex realizes that the therapy treatment turns him into one of Pavlov's dogs, being subjected to a large of amount of drugs while watching violent images for long amounts of time for many weeks. The treatment takes away Alex's free will and his urge for sex and violent, and he's finally released back to the world. However, Alex comes face-to-face with some ghosts from his past, making us wonder whether changing a person's free will and throwing him back into a violent society makes things better or worse.

REVIEW
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
is one of those films that I just fell in love with the moment the striking opening scene of Malcolm McDowell looking at the camera with a devious expression on his face appeared on the TV screen. I actually first saw this film, after hearing alot about it, in a film class about three years ago. We had to read the book by Anthony Burgess, which is all in droogish slang [Nasdat, which is based on Russian slang mixed with English words], and then compare it to the film adaptation. I remember watching A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and it was like one of those movie experiences you really can't explain or describe. It just hit me hard and I knew I had to own this on DVD. I find the film to be so cruel and so over-the-top violent that it actually makes me laugh and puts this disturbed smile on my face. One of my cousins doesn't really see why I enjoy this film so much, but then again, I like films that attempt to be quirky and not do things exactly by the book.

Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, the film is not all that similar to its source material. We have the Nasdat language intact, but not too overwhelming to figure out what every bit of dialogue means or implies. The characters pretty much remain the same, although it's more over-the-top. However, Kubrick likes to take every subject and turn it into some sort of joke to express himself. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is no different. The set pieces are more flamoyant. I mean, where else can you see nude female statues that lactate out of their marble breasts? Or a giant porcelain penis at the Catlady's house? Even the locations are full of odd shapes that don't naturally go together, creating a very surreal and bugged out film.

Plus the message of the book is totally lost in the film for the most part. Burgess wrote "A Clockwork Orange" as a book to express his belief on Christian free will and the act of forgiveness. This came about after Burgess and his wife were assaulted during World War II by soldiers, which caused his wife to have a miscarriage. Burgess, while angry and upset, learned to forget these acts and used Alex DeLarge to be his messenger. Kubrick does maintain the message in his screenplay somewhat, as we get the sense that the act of stealing one's free will, no matter how misguided it may be, is wrong. But Kubrick treats it like a dark comedy, where everytime Alex has free will, it's always taken away. It's either by the government, or by his friends and family, the hospital staff, or by Mr. Alexander, Alex believes he has the will to do whatever he wants but in a way, he's always conforming to society rules to get by. Burgess was very against Kubrick's version, as the book's ending is completely changed. Burgess' ending is much more subtle and shows Alex willing to become a better person. In the film version, he's pretty much back to the way he was at the beginning of the film - a degenerate...but one working for the government this time. Apparently, Kubrick received a version of the book with the ending not added [the publishing comedy goofed in certain countries] and didn't know about it until the film was ready to be released. Still, I think both endings are fitting and I don't mind Kubrick's take on the story at all. It's not like he totally butchered it to be disrespectful. Kubrick had a vision and filmed that vision. Humor isn't a bad thing if done right, which happens here.

Speaking of Stanley Kubrick, he definitely directs a fine film here as one would expect. He has a quirky eye for cinema, using complex shapes and scenerios that would make no sense on paper but come alive and work in unison on screen. Kubrick takes such a cruel, vindictive, and ultraviolent world and makes it absolutely beautiful and inviting. The gang battle scene at the beginning of the film is absolutely stunning, as the choregraphy is perfect and just fun to watch. The rape of Mrs. Alexander while Alex sings "Singin' In The Rain" is so iconic, as it turns a very happy song into a perverse one. I can never watch SINGIN' IN THE RAIN the same way again after this film. Plus that scene where Alex reads the Bible and dreams that he's a Roman warrior whipping Jesus Christ as he's carrying the cross - what balls! Also, Alex uses that giant porcelain penis as a murder weapon. It's so bizarre, yet so damn funny and twisted. Kubrick's sense of humor is sick, but it's the kind of sick you want more of. Every scene, every scenerio, every bit of dialogue - they all have a purpose here and it builds beautifully to its climax. Weird angles, close ups of weird facial expressions, colors that would make a rainbow jealous - I swear, it's like watching someone's dream and trying to make sense of it. It's powerful and a work of art. Stanley Kubrick was WAY ahead of his time and only until recently are people really understanding his genius. Top notch work here.

I mentioned the fantastic set pieces here by John Barry and Herman Makkink. The Korova Milk Bar, with its erotic female lactating statues and odd shapes and colors, is absolutely stunning. If this didn't win set design awards for the film, I'd be surprised. Also, the droogs' outfits that consist of a codpiece, a bowler hat, and fake eyelashes on a single eye are just iconic and add to the surrealness. Alex's house with its odd shaped walls and seats, and the outside building with the portrait of men with penises drawn on it inserting themselves in the men's butts and mouths are just hysterical. Genius filmmaking.

The acting is dead on perfect in this film. Malcolm McDowell, who people pretty much know now as Dr. Loomis in the HALLOWEEN remake, is incredible as Alex DeLarge. I think out of all the roles he's played, it always comes back to Alex. The Cockney accent, the tone of sarcasm and mocking in his voice, and just the way he seems to be enjoying the fact that he gets to beat up people and rape others is actually charismatic and endearing. From the moment you see his face, you know you should have hating this guy. But you can't help but love him as the film plays. He's loving life at the beginning and you love watching him live it. And when he goes for his "cure" to turn into a "good" person, you feel bad for him because you know the sins of his past are just gonna bite him in the ass eventually. How Kubrick turned this cruel character into such a lovable one is beyond me. But you root for this dude the entire ride, and that's due to McDowell's flawless performance. I don't think the man has played a role as good as this one since A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

All the other actors are great as well. They're all quirky and each have their own unique personalities. Patrick Magee as Mr. Alexander doesn't do much but make really constipated expressions, especially at the end. But it's funny to watch and works in context with the film. Michael Bates as the Chief Guard is hysterical with his over-the-top outbursts of authority and a march that even Alex mocks before entering the treatment. The actors who play the Droogs are also good, especially Warren Clarke and James Marks. You can understand where these characters come from due to their body language and facial expressions, but at the same time hate what they do to Alex towards the end. And everyone from Anthony Sharp as The Minister to Carl Dwering and Madge Ryan as the two doctors with the "cure" are perfect for the role. A great cast of actors that are game, which enhances the film greatly.

And I can't complete this review without mentioning the music. To the very synthesizer score that plays every once in a while, to the perverse use of Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony", to the even more perverse use of "Singin' In The Rain", Kubrick knows how to use his music and make them more than what they really are. Try listening to these songs the same way again. I dare you!

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE BEING "CURED" FROM MY VINDICTIVE WAYS

- In the future, gangs like to force the "in-out, in-out" with the ladies. Unfortunately, some men can't last long for the second "in-out". Yeah, that was a juvenile thing to say. How premature of me!

- In the future, some people wear jockstraps over their clothes. Either the fashion industry is desperate for originality, or dudes are getting kicked in the crotch a lot more. In my case, it'll probably be the last one.

- Alex sings "Singin' In The Rain" while raping Mrs. Alexander. I would probably sing "Rump Shaker" to get in the mood. But then again, I'm more romantic than most.

- The cats lady demanded Alex not to touch her giant penis. I'm sure all of Chyna's ex-boyfriends heard that same exact thing lots of time.

- The counselor spat in Alex's bloody face in the interrogation room. Apparently, FLAVOR OF LOVE is rerun alot in the future.

- You have to bend over for a cavity search before heading to prison. I thought your bigger and meaner cellmate was supposed to be the one doing that in prison? I'm confused...

- Alex was bound by a straitjacket, had wires clipped to his head, and things holding his eyelids open so he could watch some films. Knowing my luck, they'll show every film I've put in the WTF? Vault so far. I tremble just thinking about it...

- Don't catch up with your criminal friends after being released from prison. You'll find out they're now cops and end up trying to drown you to show off their newly gained power. Serve and protect, my ass!

- Don't sing the song you sang to rape the wife of the man who's taken you in and forgotten who you are. The next song you'll be forced to sing is "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey.

THE FINAL HOWL
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE
is one of my favorite films of all time due to its beautiful imagery and cruel humor. Without Stanley Kubrick and this awesome film, AMERICAN PSYCHO would have never seen the light of day [you can definitely see the influences of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in AMERICAN PSYCHO]. I will say that it's not for everyone and I'm sure there will be some who don't understand its appeal. Believe me, I've met some of those people. But if you're able to appreciate something that was ahead of its time and go into watching this with an open mind, you'll definitely find something to love about this film. I feel real horrorshow when I viddi this film, my little droogies.

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