Savannah Film Festival 2008: Day Two

(Apologies for the delay, I’ve been sick. All the catch-up articles are forthcoming.)

Malcolm McDowell is a certified badass.

Today SCAD celebrated an actor who has a resume a mile long. By his own admittance, McDowell has been in not only the best, but the worst of films. For an actor, at worst this means they simply have a desire to always be working, at best though, it shows an artist willing to take risks. Either way you look at it, McDowell’s presences brought a buzz to the festival that I can’t say I’ve ever felt, even when there has been “bigger” celebrities passing through. It was a great day for the festival.

(Note: The day started off with two screening I was unable to make. I’ll be checking to see if they play again and that I can catch up.)

A Clockwork Orange

SCAD boasts two beautiful movie theaters that the school is associated with. They are both on the main drag of Savannah, Broughton Street, and actually lie around the corner from each other. The Trustees Theater is the more traditional theater, while the Lucas Theater feels smaller but is a grand venue (that actually seats about 100 more people).

My favorite memory of any Festival so far is watching Amadeus with Milos Foreman in attendance, in the Lucas Theater. I was able to ask the first question at the following Q&A, and I’ll always remember listening to Milos speak. Today I would get to watch one of Kubrick’s most incendiary films with it’s star and driving performer. I was quite excited.

Sitting on the balcony as usual, I watched as the theater filled in. I snapped some photos but, alas, they turned out very dark. You can still get a taste of the theater from a few, but they don’t really do this immaculate theater justice…


As showtime grew closer, news rumbled up to me that there would indeed be a Q&A with Malcolm McDowell afterwards. I expected this, but I was pleased to hear it confirmed nonetheless.

I’ve seen A Clockwork Orange more frequently than any other Kubrick movie, but this was certainly the first I’d seen it since its inclusion in CHUD’s “You Got It All… Wrong!” list. In that entry, Jeremy made a reasonable case that Kubrick perhaps failed in really indicting violence. However, repeated viewing have inclined me to believe that’s not the point of the film. Kubrick most certainly revels in the violence (I must disagree with Russ’s dissenting opinion in that regard), and stages it in such a way to be exciting as possible. The orchestral movement is carefully chosen, the camera is dynamic, and the fight interestingly choreographed. Kubrick found success not in a condemnation of violence, but rather an unconditional embrace of freewill.

Alex is charming, the violence is pretty, and the spirit of the film defiant. This is important. It demonstrates that even if the worst demons are present and celebrated, it is not grounds for the removal of free will. Choice must be presented, even in the face of the most hideous potential. All this to say, A Clockwork Orange still holds up after so many viewing, and a few idiots running around as droogs at Halloween does nothing to stain it. We can’t allow frat-boys in suspenders, bowler hats, and eye make-up to tarnish a film. After all, we’ve seen what paying too much attention to morons has done for the goodwill towards Scarface.

Never Apologize

While seeing A Clockwork Orange was fantastic, the reason Mr. McDowell was really there was to screen his film, Never Apologize.

Never Apologize, is essentially a multi-camera DV recording of McDowell’s one-man stage show that he put together as a tribute to the late Lindsay Anderson. If you aren’t familiar, Anderson was the director of many classic and influential british films, including the one that made McDowell a star, If…

The show consists of a table, a podium, and McDowell. Most of the runtime is Malcolm standing stage-center and telling stories about his experiences with Anderson. At different points he moves to the podium to read from journals, letters, papers, etc. while the later part of the show is almost exclusively him sitting and reading passages out of Anderson’s diary.

The movie is difficult to criticize. It runs very long, but I feel that I must begrudge Mr. McDowell the extra 20 minutes or so, since the film exists as a tribute. If McDowell feels the need to include whatever extra story in the runtime, considering the intent, I have no basis to complain. The film is certainly fascinating, but can be a bit dry if you aren’t intimately familiar with the work of the artists in question. There is more than one moment where McDowell digresses into a truly esoteric or tangential story. I admit to having never seen any Mr. Anderson’s work (other than chunks of If…), but it did a fine job of interesting me.

What truly makes this a worthwhile show, is that McDowell is a genuinely entertaining motherfucker. He somehow managed to turn a disgusting depraved psychopath into a sympathetic character in his most famous role, and he hasn’t lost that charm. Pair his superb storytelling ability with one of the best voices in the movies, and you’ve got a much easier time digesting these numerous tales of a man that many are unfamiliar with. McDowell knows how to charm an audience in person for sure (I personally watched him do it, twice) and that shines through the camera. Most of all, a sense of true friendship comes through in McDowell’s sincere and genuine reminiscing.

I can recommend this film to any real film fan for two reasons. First, during the course of this film I somehow forgave McDowell for his roles in both Doomsday AND Halloween. Secondly, every one of Lindsay Anderson’s films shot to the top of my queue later than night. I don’t think there is a better endorsement for Never Apologize than that.

Malcolm McDowell is certainly one of the most wonderful guests I’ve ever encountered at the film festival. He was consistently open, informative, and hilarious. I don’t think he had a spare moment at the after-party that he wasn’t being asked a question, or posing for a picture (like the one above), and he seemed to enjoy ever minute.

I hope to get clearance to post the audio I recorded during the A Clockwork Orange Q&A, and if I do I’ll make a new entry for it. I got fucked out of asking a question at that Q&A, but I still managed to ask him a question in a later session, a story that should be in the addendum piece. Also, it may include the stories of the fascist moderator and a truly awful woman I met. Look out for those!

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