A Clockwork Orange
Dir: Stanley Kubrick
There are so many reasons to like Kubrick's work.
He directed films which are innovative, ground-breaking, experimental, daring, smart and thought-provoking.
Yet for me there is always one vital ingredient missing. His films engage one's brain. But they do not engage the heart.
Kubrick's films present their stories to us in a way that I feel is strangely clinical. They tell a story, they make their point, they make us think, and they leave us with questions. All of this is good.
In fact, it is the lack of these qualities, the lack of any real 'substance' that is often my criticism of modern commercial films.
And yet, when walking away from a Kubrick film, I always remain unmoved.
Kubrick managed to make a horror film 'The Shining' that whilst visually impressive, was simply not scary.
He made a film largely about sex - 'Eyes Wide Shut', that was entirely unerotic.
I will commit cinematic heresy by saying that I prefer Adrian Lyne's version of 'Lolita' to Kubrick's. Whilst James Mason was an incredible actor, I think Jeremy Irons plays the lead role with greater sensitivity and even empathy.
The opening 'Dawn of Man' sequence of '2001: A Space Odyssey' (the bit with the apes) is sixteen minutes long. It perhaps creatively depicts the evolution of man and the connection to violence, but my God is it boring!
So we come to 'A Clockwork Orange'. It is based on the novella by Antony Burgess. The pairing of Burgess and Kubrick seems like a great match.
Burgess was a highly intelligent and literate writer, who wrote critical studies of Shakespeare, Hemingway, and D.H. Lawrence. He wrote orchestral symphonies, and produced his own translation of 'Carmen'. He wrote an operetta based on James Joyce's 'Ulysses'. He spoke eight different languages and even created a Stone Age language called Ulam for the film 'Quest for Fire'.
After completing 'A Clockwork Orange', Kubrick hoped to produce a biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte. It was arranged that Burgess would write a novel, on which Kubrick would base a script.
However, the project was abandoned, and Kubrick wrote to Burgess:
"You are far too brilliant and successful a writer, and I am far too much of an admirer of yours to patronize you with a listing of what is so obviously excellent about 'Napoleon Symphony'. At the same time, I earnestly hope that our all too brief friendship will survive me telling you that the MS is not a work that can help me make a film about the life of Napoleon."
'A Clockwork Orange' was produced on a budget of $2.2m, and was a hit with American audiences, grossing more than $26m.
The critical reaction to 'A Clockwork Orange' was mostly positive. But Roger Ebert called it an 'ideological mess', and Pauline Kael called Kubrick a 'bad pornographer'.
To clear up one common myth - 'A Clockwork Orange' was never banned in the U.K.
it was released in 1971 and ran for 61 weeks. But then three different court cases named 'A Clockwork Orange' as a motivating factor in criminal cases. In March 1972, in the case of a 14-year old boy accused of manslaughter of a classmate, the prosecutor named 'A Clockwork Orange' as an example of the growing depravity in society, even though there was no mention of the film by the defendant. Then a 16-year old boy pled guilty to murder of an old tramp, telling police that his friend had told him about the film. (Again, he had never actually seen the film). Then in Lancashire, a 17-year old Dutch girl was raped by a gang of youths performing 'Singing in the Rain'.
Kubrick requested that Warner Bros. remove the film from distribution. They complied. The film was voluntarily pulled from cinemas. Kubrick's agreement with Warner Bros. stipulated that it would not be seen in the U.K. on any media in his lifetime.
This is a strange decision for Kubrick to have made. Some have said that it was prompted by death threats on the Kubrick family. It has been reported that there was pressure from the police to 'do something about this. It is getting dangerous'. But I prefer the theory that what offended Kubrick was not the violence, but by the British public reaction to the film.
A judge said while sentencing the 16 year-old assailant who had never mentioned 'A Clockwork Orange', 'We must stamp out this horrible trend, which has been inspired by this horrible film.'
The British tabloid press tried to blame the film for the fall of British society.
Sadly, there was one other tragic victim of this self-imposed ban.
In April 1992, the Scala Cinema Club in London announced a 'Surprise Film' screening. It turned out to be 'A Clockwork Orange'. The cinema projected a print owned by a private collector. The Federation Against Copyright Theft sued and won. The Scala Cinema could not pay the fine and damages, and shut down, so ending one of the U.K.'s best venues for cult, alternative, classic and experimental film.
Perhaps that is why, in spite of all its brilliance, I still feel a strange resentment towards 'A Clockwork Orange', the film that killed my favorite cinema.