Staff Review/ A Clockwork Orange

Cornerhouse AV Technician Dave Petty reviews A Clockwork Orange

As with many people of my age (31 and counting), the first time I witnessed Kubrick’s crazed concoction of rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven was on a dodgy VHS, procured by a work colleague of my dad who pulled in hundreds of foreign satellite channels from a gigantic dish in his back yard. I say ‘dodgy’, but the quality was actually great – RTL, no less. And having left for school that morning with my dad 20 minutes into it, me peering over his shoulder asking “is that what I think it is?”, I couldn’t wait to get back home and viddy it well. (I must stress, when I say school it wasn’t first year infants – I was 15).

Of course I had no clue about nadsat back then, the futuristic youth-speak used by Alex Delarge (an ego explosion of a surname if there ever was one) and his three droogs – one of the many facets of A Clockwork Orange that both dates it horribly and makes it effortlessly timeless in one fail swoop: the garish future-70s set design; the brutalist architecture; the electronic Beethoven-infused soundtrack that is as unique as it is ridiculous. It walks a thin line between controversy and comedy, and while considered immensely influential (aren’t all Kubrick’s films?), I’m struggling to think of a single film that looks, feels and operates like A Clockwork Orange does.

With Alex’s penchant for gang violence something that the state deems ‘curable’ in a hideously-skewed medical sense, A Clockwork Orange holds up a mirror to the August riots of last year, arguably showing that since the film was produced, so-called ‘youth’ (in its broadest sense) can never be cured of its violent, animalistic tendencies, and that in many cases it may live with that rage and bile well into adulthood. It was this argument that Kubrick seemed to side with, in stark opposition to Anthony Burgess, the author of the original novel, who in its closing chapter – never adapted for the film – preferred to think that we simply ‘outgrow’ our youthful impulses to become respectable, decent citizens. While this may be a cosy, rose-tinted view, it certainly wasn’t what Kubrick was thinking at the time, undoubtedly giving the film an indelible lasting relevance.

If you’ve never seen A Clockwork Orange, I urge you to do so – with Kubrick’s self-imposed UK ban of the film after an alleged spate of copycat gang attacks upon release, only lifted after his death in 1999, it’s easy to misconstrue the film as a so-called video nasty, something gruesome and horrific only to be spoken about in hushed tones. This is far from the truth – it’s not many video nasties that get nominated for Best Picture, Director, Editing and Screenplay Oscars, not to mention seven BAFTAs. As with all Kubrick’s output it’s beautifully shot and as noted, largely plays as a black comedy – the ultra-violence is limited to the opening twenty minutes, the rest of the film a veritable opera for the modern age, filled with ludicrous Government caricatures from all departments that give credence to why Alex is the way he is. The world Alex lives in is, sadly, far more deranged than he ever could be – hey, some things never change.