Note: This review of a 70’s masterpiece is the twenty-ninth in the ongoing ‘Allan Fish Bonnaza’ Encore series at WitD.
by Allan Fish
(UK 1971 137m) DVD1/2
A bit of the old ultraviolence
p Stanley Kubrick, Bernard Williams d/w Stanley Kubrick novel Anthony Burgess ph John Alcott ed Bill Butler m Walter Carlos (including Henry Purcell, Edward Elgar, Giacchino Rossini, L.Van Beethoven, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov) art John Barry, Russell Hagg, Peter Shields cos Milena Canonero
Malcolm McDowell (Alex de Large), Patrick Magee (Mr Alexander), Michael Bates (Chief Guard), Warren Clarke (Dim), James Marcus (Georgie), Michael Tarn (Pete), Anthony Sharp (Minister of the Interior), John Clive (stage actor), Adrienne Corri (Mrs Alexander), Miriam Karlin (Miss Weathers), Carl Duering (Dr Brodsky), Clive Francis (Joe), Dave Prowse (Julian), Philip Stone (Dad), Sheila Raynor (Mum), Aubrey Morris (P.R.Deltoid), Godfrey Quigley (prison chaplain), Paul Farrell (tramp), Steven Berkoff (cop), John Savident (conspirator), Margaret Tyzack (lady conspirator),
Viddy well at this horror show cine, o my brothers. Kubrick’s most controversial film, this was the definitive cult film in the U.K after its withdrawal from our eyes for 26 years. (Indeed, I still remember the sweaty-palmed glee with which I devoured the film for the first time when a friend imported a video copy from the US.) A horror comic masterpiece of sorts, without a shadow of a doubt, it follows the story of a young murderer cum rapist in a futuristic nihilistic Britain who is released from prison after undergoing the Ludovico experimental treatment, this time as a victim of society.
It has been described as the British precursor to Taxi Driver, which it heavily influenced (and ironically the showdown at the Five Points in Scorsese’s later Gangs of New York is also faintly reminiscent of Clockwork), but it is more than just that. It’s a savage indictment of not only contemporary society but a futuristic vision, too. Though Burgess’ novel was written back in 1962, so that Kubrick’s vision of the future does have many dating aspects (Alex’s turntable, the awful hairdos, etc.), its nihilistic vision is as clear now as it was over thirty years ago. And though it has been called the sort of film tailored to a masculine audience – and I have to admit most of the friends I know who didn’t like it were young women, who were alienated by what they perceived as brutal misogyny – in many ways it’s to young girls that the film has proved most accurate in its prediction. Many point out the prophecy of the football hooligans and Heysel, but it’s also scarily indicative of gang culture, arguably even more a problem today than it was then. Just look carefully in that opening shot and we see that there are three or four such apparelled droog gangs, at least one of whom contains a young girl member. In the light of numerous exposés in the modern media of girl gangs, we can see that they and Burgess’ antiheroes share much in common. Furthermore, attacking its violence seems rather unfair; its scenes of violence (think of the derelict casino) owing more to Tex Avery than to extreme violentia, its rape scene shocking, but far from explicit.
Cinematically, meanwhile, its influence has been immense; one thinks ofTrainspotting in particular, with its equally antisocial narrator hero and copycat decor in a nightclub, and of course Blur’s ‘The Universal’ video. Its narrator’s quotes are the stuff of legend. Its most memorable scenes are ingrained on the psyche as if we, too, had undergone Ludovico brainwashing; the opening salutation to the camera in the Korova, Alex singing ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ while kicking the helpless Magee (Gene Kelly never spoke to Kubrick after this), the gang battle to the strains of ‘The Thieving Magpie’, Alex disciplining his cohorts along the flat top marina, the murder of Karlin with a phallic sculpture and the cynical finalé and last line (“I was cured all right!“). And if the photography, the amazing interior design of the Korova and the immortal electronic reworking of the classics by composer Carlos weren’t enough, the directorial zeal of Kubrick is nothing short of sensational. Yet it’s McDowell we remember, smiling devilishly from behind his fake eyelashes, Burgess’ immortal Nadsat slipping from his tongue as immortally as Hamlet’s soliloquy from Gielgud’s. He may have been forever typecast, but it’s a one performance shoe-in for greatness.