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Experiencing Kubrick: 6 Notes on A Clockwork Orange

I sat there, front row and Malcolm McDowell’s deranged eyes stared back, plastered huge before me. Here are six appreciations I gained whilst watching Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange in the cinema.

A Clockwork Orange Stanley Kubrick

Out of all of Kubrick’s 12-year-streak quadruplet of masterpieces (2001, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining), I believed Clockwork would gain the least from being projected large. The Shining has its corridors, Barry Lyndon has its candles and 2001 has it all – I could only imagine their transporting effect on the big screen, but for some reason Kubrick’s adaptation of Burgess’ novel never struck me as “cinematic”. But when I sat there, front row and Malcolm McDowell’s deranged eyes stared back, plastered huge before me, I realised I was wrong. Here are six appreciations I gained whilst watching A Clockwork Orange in the cinema.

I – Costumes on Costumes on Costumes. Who is lying to who? Adults pretend to be adults, Adults pretend to be kids pretending to be adults. Alex performs to those above him and they perform back; silly and flamboyant – everybody a bare-faced liar.

II  Everyone is fucked. Intoxicated on either the “Korova Milk” or something deeper and darker, speaking only with a glassy eyed gaze and an uncontrollable smile. Any remnants of a soul eludes these people: the gangs and the authorities. The only emotions truly felt are pain, rage, bliss and they surge through their very beings like jolts of electric, making them spasm and froth. The others just quiver in fear, blend in or don’t come out at all, pretend it’s all okay, pretend the world isn’t ending.

III – We’re cobbled together from the people we know. Ever started saying something ironically or as a joke but use it so much that it becomes a common part of your dialect? Alex and his “droogs” have done exactly that, but with everything. Built from art and drugs and violence and language, books they’ve read and books they’ve burnt. If you change every part of a boat is it still the same boat? This is the stolen generation. 

IV Kubrick is laughing at us. How can “Freud once said…” hold any weight when we’re watching a man made from rubble and blood, not born. How can the “Ludovico technique” control his urges when he is already controlled? 

A Clockwork Orange Jesus Stanley Kubrick

V – The concoction, contradiction and mingling of art and deviancy is always talked about in reference to "A Clockwork Orange", but it is honestly brilliant. Alex dreams of urban nymphs, murders with abstract sculpture and defaces classic tapestries. That shot of the 4 Jesus statues in arms is genius. 

VI – In the first third, Alex murders and rapes. For the remainder he is tortured, enslaved, beaten and driven suicidal. Kubrick puts you behind his eyes in POV shots and forces you to witness as his eyelids are *actually* pinned open or his head *actually* held beneath water. A thin layer of film grain separates you from this world but the determined lack of “movie magic” threatens to tear it away. You watch as the youth is trialed, experimented upon and manipulated by all those who can’t understand him and the only thing keeping that world from seeping into your own is a small sub-conscious mantra: he deserves this, doesn’t he? Doesn’t he?

Stanley Kubrick is one of the few artists that takes his work beyond what we know as cinema. Beyond Hollywood and acting and awards and story and entertainment. He deals out light and shadow as pure as it comes and leaves you stranded with what you’re given. Like Jack Nicholson said: “everybody pretty much acknowledges he’s the man, and I still feel that underrates him.” After seeing his films on the big screen, this seems more true than ever.


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