Thomas Pollock’s review published on Letterboxd :
Historical, controversial, comical, surreal, satirical, disorientating, daring, exciting, exhilarating; the list can go on of ways to describe this film. When watching Stanley Kubrick’s adaption of Anthony Burgess’s Novel, you are witnessing one of the greatest films of all time. Perhaps only through my eyes, but this is definitely among the greats. Full of artistic brilliance and visual images that you will not find in a film before it like it, Kubrick’s careful direction makes this one very exciting film. You get one of the best cinematic experiences when watching the film and it truly defines film as an art. This is a must-see for film lovers of all kinds.
Meet Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell) the relentless, Beethoven-loving gang leader whose droogs (friends) run amuck in their home area causing violence and getting up to the old ultra-violence (rape). After Alex is jailed for bludgeoning the Cat Lady (Miriam Karlin) to death with one of her phallic sculptures, Alex submits to the Ludovico behaviour modification technique to earn his freedom; he is conditioned to abhor violence through watching gory movies, and even his adored Beethoven is turned against him. Returned to the world defenceless, Alex becomes the victim of his prior victims, with Mr. Alexander using Beethoven's Ninth to inflict the greatest pain of all. When society sees what the state has done to Alex, however, the politically expedient move is made.
As soon as the film begins with its vintage groovy colours, basic and elegant as the disorientating music plays, you know you are going to have a very special cinematic experience. The music is overwhelmingly brilliant as it pairs with the visuals in a sophisticated contrast, and its theme is memorable and has some sort of mental effect on your viewing. The soundtrack to the entire film is one of the best you will ever find in motion picture.
Kubrick very carefully put the film together. Almost every shot is unique, full of filmmaking technique and sophistication, which makes “A Clockwork Orange” so definitive. That dolly back from Alex at the start of the film, the relentless driving down the road with the droog gang cheering, and how can we forget the sheer disorientating feeling created by seeing the Ludovico treatment in action? All of these have great technical brilliance and surreal sophistication. These are just a few examples of the brilliant scenes in “A Clockwork Orange”.
The characters in the film are such a highlight of cinema and McDowell’s outstanding performance as Alex is what makes the character for what he is. Here we have a teenaged boy who is relentless, vicious, causes violence, rapes women but is intelligent and aware. In spite of all this, he is such a lovable character even if his actions are despicable. With all this going on in his life, he absolutely loves it; he is a character that lives life to the full. He is also an intelligent character, which you will notice with his taste of music (his favourite being Ludwig Van Beethoven 9th symphony) and again where he is with the police when he states, “I won’t say anything until my lawyer is here. I know the law you bastards”.
Again, Alex would not be what he is without the amazing talent of Malcolm McDowell. The facial expressions and gestures Alex gives affects you as an audience as well as that amazing British voice which when Alex narrates gets in to your head. McDowell has an overall look that makes the character so lovable. While being a violent and wild teen, there is still an innocent side that buys over the audience. Alex is one of the greatest creations in fiction because of his sociopathic and comically insane lovable charm. McDowell has a mesmerizing quality that never makes him boring to see and makes Alex one of the best characters to come from fictional literature, if not the best.
We of course cannot forget about Alex’s droogs, who in the first part of the film support the film magnificently. First, there is Dim, played by Warren Clarke, the large, tough and unintelligent character. His idiocy is memorable and very amusing to see, which makes him one of the memorable droogs next to Alex. The second droog we have is Georgie (James Marcus), the tall top-hatted fellow who attempts to take the gang over. In the background, we have Pete (Michael Tarn) who really does not make an impression or have many lines
Another thing to notice that the film does is its use of characters. Excluding Alex, his droogs and Alex’s parents, most of the characters we meet are of importance. We have police officers, doctors, Government officials, social workers, all of which communicate with Alex. All these characters have eccentric quality to them and it all makes up for an amusing viewing.
One thing you will certainly remember the film for is the scene were Alex and his droogs break in to the writers’ house were they cause serious havoc [no spoilers]. To top off the insanity we have McDowell singing “I’m Singin in the rain”, which Gene Kelly considers to be a ‘bastardization’. He has every right to think that, but the scene is so creatively brilliant it makes you satirically laugh, but at the same time, you really should not be because of what is happening. The song and possibly film will never be the same again after you see what happens.
The story is just fantastic. The book is no more than 150 pages long, and is relatively short, but this film is over 2 hours long, yet does not feel stretched out. The story may be short, but boy is it enjoyable. In fact, it had me wishing it were longer. In its three sections, you feel disorientated, thrilled, excited, frightened and with the power of satire you will laugh at parts. With such a versatile style makes it a social satire of great strength. There is a total feeling of disorientation in the film also with all the strange music and quite daring visuals with things you usually will not see in a film of its time. With footage of rape, footage of the Nazis and even the style of the Korova milk bar. This is why the film is so great, it does what film does; makes you feel.
The setting of the film and book are placed in the future, but the ways all the costumes, props and so on have been assembled make it not seem dated. When you look at a film like “Grease”, it looks dated and says its time all over it. “A Clockwork Orange” has a mixture between late 60’s, 70’s disco and a unique near-future look. Alex’s mum wears strange clothes, a colourful wig, the prison Alex is sentenced to is a strangely shaped one, and almost all of the architecture we see is out of the ordinary. Just look at the shape of the buildings we see in some parts. The costume of Alex and his droogs is a cross between cricket clothes and vintage accessories like bowler hats, canes and top hats and looking at the original design of the Korova milk bar, you can see the film is unique and timeless thanks to production designer John Barry.
I have read the first half of the book, I was impressed with how socially aware, and unique it was. Not only using quite a new language (known as nadsat- which is part Russian), but also having a very gripping story. I do not care about how faithful Kubrick was by bringing it to screen (which he relatively was), the book inspired a very great film and as a film geek, it is simple as that. There is such a strong morality to the book and uses aversion theory to try to stop immoral behaviour. Burgess’s ideas were pessimistic in the sense he was foreseeing the worst possibilities of the early 80’s and late 70’s. The language is another appealing thing that has given it such a cult status. It is like Russian, English and Shakespearian English mixed in to one. Testicles become yarbels, droogs mean friends, ultra violence is for rape and there are over 100 hundred others. It makes the film have a world of its own a sole reason for the novel and film’s success.
What amazes me is how a screenplay was not used to produce the film. Instead, they literally had the book with them. This is a rarity indeed for any production and is something filmmakers today likely would not dare to try. Kubrick was very close to the story of the book and truly captured its essence while also making the story very much original. This film shows Kubrick as a masterful director, and shows that he never made the same film twice.
The 70’s brought many extreme changed to society and to the film industry. Films were becoming extreme, pornography hit VHS and several radical films had been juggled with serious political and censorship issues. “A Clockwork Orange” may very well be the most controversial film of all time, if not then the most controversial to be released in the UK.
After a few weeks at the box office in the UK, headlines in newspapers began to spread news of violence and murder with ‘Clockwork Orange’ as responsible. In March 1972, at a trial, a prosecutor accusing a fourteen-year-old-boy defendant of the manslaughter of a classmate, referred to A Clockwork Orange, telling the judge that the case had a macabre relevance to the film. The attacker, a Bletchley boy of sixteen, pleaded guilty after telling police that friends had told him of the film "and the beating up of an old boy like this one"; defence counsel told the trial "the link between this crime and sensational literature, particularly A Clockwork Orange, is established beyond reasonable doubt".
Not long after this, Stanley Kubrick himself was getting death threats sent to his house about the film so he phoned Warner Brothers and told them to retract the film from the United Kingdom. And what filmmaker wouldn't be scared of this? (Well Werner Herzog might not be as shocked).
This caused Kubrick a lot of turmoil due to the fact he was being blamed for all this violence and the film was never seen in U.K theatres for over 25 years. Today, for those from the U.K, watching the film is partly a historical viewing as well as a big exhilarating thrill ride. It shows that Kubrick was not scared to go ahead and put rape and violence in to a movie, despite the fact he had to withdraw the film due to the sudden rise on violence. Was art truly to blame?
In many ways, the film has great significance. It represents so many different things within the film including political and moral matters. The raping of women, violence, drug use, the corruption of the medical world, and most of all, the functioning of the society that we see Alex relentlessly living in; all of these are reasons for the film’s shocking impact at the time. The book’s setting is in a near future (I believe the late 70’s and early 80’s) and shows a corrupted society where adolescent violence has caused the Government to go to Pavlovian techniques of ‘negative reinforcement’. Kubrick dissects the nature of violence with satire, surrealism and thought-provoking situations. He was purely a filmmaker ahead of his time.
Furthermore, “A Clockwork Orange” defines the art of cinema. It moves you in many ways and creates images that will stay in your sub-conscious forever. All of the cinematography and Misé-en-scene make the film undeniably brilliant and timeless. It has a terrific narrative, amazing music, gripping characters and all sums up to being cinematic brilliance. It makes you feel mixed emotions and feeling, which is the intent of cinema and that, is what makes this film so powerfully exciting.
Now, we are forty years ahead from when he film was first released with different perception and the perception is of a film that reaches artistic brilliance in terms of cinema. It has gone from controversial, surreal and too extreme to daringly fascinating, compelling and full of energy. From reading this review, you can easily see this is one of my favourite films of all time and it definitely fits in the top five. Thanks for sticking with me on this very long review (if you did), I could not help but write about everything in this glorious film. “A Clockwork Orange” is Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece full of overwhelming images, exuberant characters and an unforgettable plot that will stay fresh in your mind long after viewing and makes it an aesthetically important film.