Monday, July 30, 2012

1971 - A Clockwork Orange

It's been a busy few weeks as Kat and I have been getting all the pieces together for the inaugural production of our theatre company, Australian Made Entertainment. In September, we will be presenting Cosi, a classic Aussie comedy about a bunch of mental patients who cobble together a performance of Mozart's opera, Cosi fan tutte. If you can't make it to New York in September, you could always check out the film version, which I believe is also available on Netflix. In any case, be sure to 'like' us on Facebook to keep up to date with our progress.

After a hectic week, I managed to squeeze in a viewing of another Best Picture nominee from 1971's contest...

A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick
(based on the novel by Anthony Burgess)
Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin, Godfrey Quigley, Anthony Sharp, Warren Clarke, Aubrey Morris, Michael Bates
Academy Awards:
4 nominations
0 wins

In an indeterminate futuristic time period, London has a serious crime problem with gangs of young thugs terrorising innocent citizens on a regular basis. One such gang of "droogs", led by Alex (McDowell), enjoys a night of "ultra-violence", first beating up a homeless man and then assaulting writer Frank Alexander (Magee) and raping his wife (Corri) in a home invasion. The next night, after Alex brutally rapes another woman (Karlin), his "droogs" turn on him, leaving him to be caught by the police. When the woman later dies, Alex is sentenced to prison for murder.

A couple of years later, Alex becomes a test subject for a new aversion therapy, a rapid conditioning technique intended to cure violent tendencies in criminals. While agreeing to the treatment gives him a get-out-of-jail-free card, he soon struggles with its often disturbing and inhumane effects.

Stanley Kubrick certainly knows how to give a film a distinctive style. Each of his films is unique in its presentation and A Clockwork Orange is perhaps his most stylised, in large part due to Anthony Burgess' source novel, which supplies the film's dialogue with some peculiar new English words. Burgess essentially created a new dialect that is best described as a Russian-influenced English. While it certainly lends the story an air of originality, it sometimes comes across as rather childish, as in the case of "eggiwegs".

Another standard of a Kubrick film is its sumptuous design and again, A Clockwork Orange is no exception. The retro-futuristic sets are beautifully fascinating, as are the strange costumes, particularly Alex's mother's weirdly inappropriate outfits. We are also treated to some inventive make-up as each of the central droogs displays an individual, asymmetric style. Even the music is somewhat stylised. While most of the score consists of classical music, it is juxtaposed with occasional moments of electronica, just in case we forgot we were in the future.

The one possible drawback of all this heavy style, however, is that it risks putting the audience at a bit of a distance. The very serious issues of the psychology of crime and the moral implications of brainwashing seem less accessible because of how abstractly they are presented. One such oddity is the "performance" to demonstrate Alex's reformation, as actors subject him to a sort of evil version of Punk'd. The artificiality also makes it easy to desensitise oneself to the violence in the film. I mean, how seriously can you take an assailant when he assaults his victims while dancing and crooning "Singin' in the Rain"? Or beats a lady with an oversized penis sculpture? Well, actually, those scenes are kind of creepy. In fact, despite the style, there are plenty of emotionally moving moments, so maybe the point is made.

While the character of Alex is unmistakably theatrical, Malcolm McDowell (pictured) at times shows clever restraint in his breakout role as the troubled youth. Other actors fail to avoid consistently theatrical performances, namely Patrick Magee, whose wild facial ticks are somewhat distracting. On the other hand, Michael Bates' pantomime portrayal of an enthusiastically gruff prison guard has its funny moments. Star Wars fans may appreciate seeing the man inside the Darth Vader suit, David Prowse, as Frank's placid attendant, Julian.

1 comment:

  1. What makes a Stanley Kubrick film so unique? As different as his genre choices are from one to another with his limited productions, like most great directors, he had his signature style. I guess he would be considered one of the auteurs of the cinema. A Clockwork Orange is one of his hardest films to embrace - misogynistic, inhumane on several fronts, pessimistic, yet always fascinating and so idiosyncratic.

    I listened to the commentary track which included Malcolm McDowell, and he continually pointed out Kubrick’s use of single source lighting. Like cinematographer John Alton did with film noir, Kubrick’s lighting is amazing. I’ve never seen a shot filmed under an expressway like the one of the homeless mugging in A Clockwork Orange. There were many other mesmerizing shots throughout the movie, and his use of film music is consistently one of the highlights of a Kubrick film.

    I’ve mentioned several times before that I don’t care for movies that contain a lot of shouting. I wouldn’t place A Clockwork Orange quite in that category, but it seemed that nearly everyone spoke louder than normal – “MORE WINE”, “NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY! YOU FILTHY OLD SOOMKA!” “SHUT YOUR BLEEDING HOLE!” Yet the annunciation was impeccable throughout. Alex’s dialogue with his truant officer was almost Shakespearian in rhythm.

    Malcolm McDowall gave a heck of a performance. He really should have been nominated that year. I do agree about Patrick Magee’s over the top work. I hadn’t seen facial gyrations like his since Alastair Sim’s Scrooge. Warren Clarke (Dim) has gone on to have a busy career on British TV and in some noteworthy films.

    It is hard to find a contemporary film from the early seventies that hasn’t dated itself somewhat over the past forty years. A Clockwork Orange mostly sidesteps this occurrence. Sure the décor and some of the costuming’s pseudo-futuristic look is rather comical today, but there’s a freshness to the movie that survives. I would probably place a few of Kubrick’s other films ahead of this one, but it remains one of his seminal works.