These are our four categories for this list:
These guys have had it too easy. Far too easy. Don’t believe the insane hype.
Good flicks that have gotten too damn big for their britches.
Asshole, you love this film for all the wrong reasons.
WHAT THE FUCK
Something went horribly wrong here and it’s carried over the the fans, who are blinded by shizer.
Why A Clockwork Orange Is Overblown
Your guide: Jeremy Smith
Its Legacy: Equated “Kubrick” with “coldness”. Received an X-rating. Blamed for inciting criminal activity (which led Kubrick to request that it be banned in the U.K.). Bolstered Malcolm McDowell’s counterculture, movie-star clout. Associated the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (aka “Ode to Joy”) with rape, murder and/or profuse vomiting (until Die Hard reclaimed it in the name of common thievery). Pioneered the use of new zoom lenses (and set the stage for Kubrick’s groundbreaking, natural light experimentation on the superior Barry Lyndon). Added another prickish antihero to the pantheon of disaffected youths. Gave Luis Bunuel a boner. Inspired Billy Joel’s “Pressure” video.
Why It’s Here: I detest A Clockwork Orange.
Even when I was most susceptible to its antisocial charms (i.e. a sophomore in high school), it struck me as a crock of shit. Sure, the craft of the thing was astounding: Kubrick’s wedding of Wendy Carlos’s synthesized classical music – Purcell’s “Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary” in particular – to disquieting, sometimes profane imagery was an undeniable call to action; that one single zoom out in the Korova Milk Bar can still explode the possibilities of the medium. But the film felt emotionally undernourished; Kubrick might’ve connected with the humor of Burgess’s novel, but he couldn’t locate the horrified conscience of it. Burgess, whose wife was assaulted by American servicemen during World War II, was writing from experience, and he hated himself for it. “If one can put an act of violence down on paper,” exclaimed Burgess, “you’ve created the act! You might as well have done it! I detest that damn book now!”
Kubrick would eventually atone for this smirking wickedness with Full Metal Jacket (which depicts desensitization in a calm, cogent manner), but casual admirers are more likely to gush over A Clockwork Orange when discussing the maestro’s best work. They love Kubrick’s intransigence in the face of an X-rating (even though he sped up the threesome to appease the MPAA), and they take its iconic status as evidence of its greatness. The violence may be outlandishly funny and attractively staged, but we’re not meant to be titillated by it – except that we are Oh, but it’s an indictment! Alex represents man unleashed! He is free of rules and deeply ingrained concepts of decency, and isn’t it horrifying that this creature lurks within all of us?
Yes, and it was doubly horrifying to see young men missing the point by dressing up as Alex and the Droogs at midnight movies during the late 80s and early 90s. You might think this makes A Clockwork Orange a perfect candidate for “misunderstood” status, but I honestly think these imbeciles are reading the film correctly. “I was cured, all right” is a moment of fist-pumping defiance. It’s the thump of a baseball off The Cooler King’s cell wall. We’re celebrating Alex’s return to normalcy, which means it’s one long rape-a-rama until the next misguided administration futilely attempts to recondition evil young men. The combination of Kubrick’s craft and McDowell’s charisma drowns out the nuance of Burgess’s critique, and the film becomes an attack on conformity. Only the squarest of the square don’t enjoy a bit of ultraviolence every now and then.
If I were Kubrick, I would’ve banned it, too.
A Moment of Piss: “The William Tell Overture” menage a trois outs Kubrick as a Benny Hill fan.
These Ain’t Chopped Liver Alternatives: Full Metal Jacket, Point Blank, Los Olvidados, Over the Edge, Badlands.
Justin Waddell Agrees (sort of): It’s interesting that this pick comes a day after Ferris Beuller’s Day Off made the list. Kubrick was something of a John Hughes fan, you see. Or, at the very least, he liked Anthony Michael Hall’s performances in Hughes’ movies so much that he originally cast the pre-beefy version of the actor as the lead in Full Metal Jacket. Hall dropped out after having had enough of the director’s infamous exacting and exhausting shooting style. Kubrick was also a big fan of Bon Jovi and Arby’s. I hope. Anyway, the Ferris that Dellamorte sketched for us yesterday shares some characteristics with the Alex we meet in Clockwork. They both like to browbeat their friends, drive hot cars, and, well, subvert, shatter, or just plain ignore the institutions that are trying to glue them and everyone else firmly in place. By the end of their respective movies, both young men have gotten away with their transgressions. Ferris is back on track to being a “productive” member of society (he casually acknowledges that this is probably his last hurrah before the confines of adulthood); Alex has been forgiven by and even united with an establishment far more wicked than he could ever hope to be.
Kubrick certainly sees Alex for the monster he is. But do we? The mighty S.K. might have muddied the message too much at the end of the day. We are asked to identify with Alex, laugh with and at him, and feel sorry for him when he becomes a victim. But, then, we are supposed to root for him when he’s restored to full Alexness AND be nauseated as we do it. Jeremey’s right – when I watch it, I just feel relieved and happy for Alex, honestly. McDowell is just so fucking likable in the role. And the way Kubrick shoots his terrible actions at the beginning of the movie go a long way towards softening our perspective of him…just as Alex would have wanted, of course. Jeremy is probably right that there might be something wrong in the design of the film that leads people (still!) to buy fake eyelashes (throwing one out, of course), snap on some white suspenders, and bust out a the patented knife-cane. I’m looking at you, Gnarls Barkley. Yet, I guess people do tend to dress up as monsters, right? I do think that Kubrick had to be saddened (and probably amused) to see the character so deified. Anyway, I would actually tuck A Clockwork Orange comfortably into our Misunderstood category, kiss it on the forehead, and turn off the light is what I’m saying.
Russ Fischer Disagrees: Overblown? ‘Misunderstood’ perhaps, thanks to the dialogue and costuming that stick in your head even when their meaning fails to. But this is a film that leaves a large footprint by virtue of the fact that it turns broad yet prescient ideas about modern violence into pop art. You don’t have to like it; Clockwork is an ugly, unpleasant experience, but it has an enduring quality that is impossible to deny.
The general worldview combined with Kubrick’s alluring cinema craft makes for a uniquely disquieting experience. I can empathize with those who are repulsed rather than drawn inward. If Kubrick was actually horrified into withdrawing the film in the UK (and not threatened into it, as his wife claims) I could understand that, too. It’s one thing to know that you’re right, and another to see it acted out on the nightly news.
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