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A Clockwork Orange (1971)
#1
I was astonished to find no historical thread for this movie, although it could have been swallowed by time along with the absolute oldest of CHUD forum content.

Every Kubrick film sans FEAR AND DESIRE gets put into some sort of regular rotation in my home, though it had been quite a while since I’d sat down to watch A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. I must say that while self-advertised horror films tend not to affect me, these clownish satires (see also: NETWORK), with their synth scores and off-kilter, grotesquely candy-colored approach to unpleasant subject matter reliably shake me up.

I suppose you can’t discuss this film without discussing the controversy surrounding it, which seems to come down to two questions:

1) Does the film glorify Alex’s behavior?
2) Even if it doesn’t, does the movie bear responsibility when people take the wrong message from it (the FIGHT CLUB argument)?

I think the answer to both questions is a resounding No, but high-profile critics (Ebert, Kael) reacted as if the first, and more serious, charge is self-evident. Kael went so far as to call the assault scenes pornographic, as did Quentin Tarantino (project much?), but based on what? The lingering, matter-of-fact way Kubrick presents the violence makes it objectively repellent, or so one would think.

Kael especially has a problem with the fact that the movie dares to showcase Alex’s plight after he is put back into society, as if it represents some sort of contradiction. But why shouldn’t a human’s suffering affect us, even if the human is evil? When watching someone nearly get drowned in the sadistic way that happens to Alex, questions of whether they “deserve it” seem to be irrelevant. Similarly, I don’t buy the idea that making some of Alex’s victims pompous weirdos is an attempt to make the brutality against them somehow deserving or easier to swallow.

After all, everyone in this movie is a weirdo. Kubrick leans hard into caricature here, more so even than he did with George C. Scott or Jack Nicholson. The Minister could pass for Francis Urquhart, the writer’s aggressively twitchy mannerisms could hold their own against Mark Margolis in Breaking Bad, and the prison warder seems to have wandered out of a Monty Python sketch. But these broad characterizations only make the movie more unsettling. The question of who to root for – if that’s even meant to be answered – forces a lot of uncomfortable self-examination.

I think what makes the movie great is that it doesn’t offer easy resolutions to its moral quandaries, hence the vastly different takeaways from viewer to viewer. Kubrick does ultimately seem to conclude that “goodness” brought on by brainwashing is a greater atrocity than wickedness by choice/nature, but he certainly doesn’t do so in a tidy way that blunts Alex’s conscious villainy or spares the audience the trouble of confronting their own orthodoxy. Allowing us to relate to Alex, the great sin that seems to be at the root of all the outrage, is an important part of the ethical challenge.

Technical note: How common was the speed-up effect (used for the threesome between Alex and the two girls from the record store) when this movie came out? I’m sure Kubrick didn’t pioneer it, but I have a hunch it became ubiquitous only after he used it the way he did, in the same way that “Paint it Black” became a go-to needle drop after FULL METAL JACKET or how Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2 was suddenly everywhere after EYES WIDE SHUT. Even BATMAN V SUPERMAN got in on the act, I'm told.
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#2
I've watched this movie at least 3 times and have yet to warm up to it. It's superbly made of course, but as with Lolita, I've remained immune to its... well, not "charms" exactly. Maybe it's the combination of the over-the-top grotesques matched with Kubrick's mostly-clinical style (although things like the odd fisheye angles and touches like the fast-forward sex scene are almost Richard Lester-y, making for an odd mix), but I've never found an "in" to either of those films, especially Clockwork.
I was in a horror-comedy called BLACK HOLLER. It's now on Prime Video. Check it out!
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#3
I have always had trouble along those lines with BRAZIL (though I am due for a rewatch), even though I am immensely appreciative of Gilliam's world-building on paper.  For all its distancing effects though, I find A CLOCKWORK ORANGE fairly mesmerizing from a film making perspective.  The impeccably photographed scene where Alex navigates the record store while the bizarre Wendy Carlos rendition of Ode to Joy plays is as utterly sublime as it is weird.  

Another standout for me is the long, proto-Steadicam shot of Alex being dragged away by his buddies-turned-cops as he expresses confusion while they taunt him.  A very simply designed shot that achieves something powerful yet difficult to describe in how it marries imagery and music (which drowns out the dialog in a way that doesn't seem even to matter).
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#4
BRAZIL is a good comparison. The filmmaking and production design are so on-point that it's hard for me to reconcile how thematically muddled the film is (I think BRAZIL's a little more successful in this regard) ... it's frequently striking, but I'm not clear on what Kubrick is trying to say, in part because I feel like HE doesn't know what he's trying to say. The combination of Kubrick's usually clinical style, interspersed with the stylistic tricks used throughout the movie, only add to the "all over the place" vibe of the film.
I was in a horror-comedy called BLACK HOLLER. It's now on Prime Video. Check it out!
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#5
Critics who use the word "pornographic" to describe violent scenes that get across the damage and suffering caused, like the assault scenes in Clockwork Orange, are either aroused by violence or disgusted by pornography. Either way, they're unhealthy and should be closely watched.
"Looking at the Trump administration, I'm starting to think I was too hard on the characters in Prometheus."  --  MrBananaGrabber
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#6
Every time I watch this (and it's been a few years), my main takeaway is just how marvelous the film score is in terms of conveying the exact right tonal moods for every sequence. It's a work of genius, and I honestly don't think that the film would really work as well without it.
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#7
Not sure what was going on with the font in my original post.  Fixed it.

Here's Tarantino's quote about the violence:

Quote:I always thought Kubrick was a hypocrite, because his party line was, I’m not making a movie about violence, I’m making a movie against violence. And it’s just, like, Get the fuck off. I know and you know your dick was hard the entire time you were shooting those first twenty minutes, you couldn’t keep it in your pants the entire time you were editing it and scoring it. You liked the rest of the movie, but you put up with the rest of the movie. You did it for those first twenty minutes. And if you don’t say you did you’re a fucking liar.”

Case closed!
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#8
(04-30-2018, 03:14 PM)Mangy Wrote: I'm not clear on what Kubrick is trying to say, in part because I feel like HE doesn't know what he's trying to say.

Kubrick was uncharacteristically open about the intent and ideas behind A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (which is of course also a book to which he was thematically faithful), I'm guessing because the controversy prompted him to defend the film.  
 
There are two good interviews with Kubrick about the movie, one conducted by Michel Ciment and one for Sight & Sound magazine.  Kubrick even engaged in a spat with Fred Hechinger of The New York Times (who called the film "unmistakably fascist"), as chronicled here. Remind me never to get into an argument with Stanley Kubrick.
 
Thanks to his relative willingness to talk about this one, we have no less than three summations of the movie by Kubrick itself.  From the Ciment interview:
 
Quote:The central idea of the film has to do with the question of free-will. Do we lose our humanity if we are deprived of the choice between good and evil? Do we become, as the title suggests, A Clockwork Orange? Recent experiments in conditioning and mind control on volunteer prisoners in America have taken this question out of the realm of science-fiction. At the same time, I think the dramatic impact of the film has principally to do with the extraordinary character of Alex, as conceived by Anthony Burgess in his brilliant and original novel. Aaron Stern, the former head of the MPAA rating board in America, who is also a practising psychiatrist, has suggested that Alex represents the unconscious: man in his natural state. After he is given the Ludovico 'cure' he has been 'civilized', and the sickness that follows may be viewed as the neurosis imposed by society.
 
As printed in Saturday Review magazine, Kubrick described the movie this way:

Quote:A social satire dealing with the question of whether behavioural psychology and psychological conditioning are dangerous new weapons for a totalitarian government to use to impose vast controls on its citizens and turn them into little more than robots.
 
On the production's call sheets, Kubrick offered an even handier capsule:

Quote:It is a story of the dubious redemption of a teenage delinquent by condition-reflex therapy. It is, at the same time, a running lecture on free will.
 
Here’s something I’ve always wondered: What causes the reversal of Alex’s conditioning?  Did it simply wear off?  Was it somehow triggered by the physical injuries he sustained in his fall?  Or did the totalitarian government actively un-brainwash him?  (Alex complains of a recurring dream of doctors messing around in his head, which the creepy psychiatrist cheerfully dismisses as normal.)
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#9
I've always thought that they deliberately reverse the procedure after they see that they've rendered Alex incapable of surviving on his own.
"Looking at the Trump administration, I'm starting to think I was too hard on the characters in Prometheus."  --  MrBananaGrabber
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#10
That reading makes sense, especially in light of Alex's value as a political tool.

It is interesting, and supremely effective, the way Kubrick uses caricature to unflatter every societal faction in the story.  It is almost apolitical in the way everyone gets shown to be amoral.  Far from being the "ideological mess" Ebert accuses it to be, the film has a remarkably consistent view of the nature of man.
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