|Directed by:||Stanley Kubrick|
|Written by:||Stanley Kubrick|
|Cast:||Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Warren Clarke, Paul Farrell|
Stanley Kubrick created many classic motion pictures before dying of natural causes in 1999, and this is one of my faves from his uniquely limited collection (in the last 31 years of his life, he directed only six movies). One of the best things about this flick is that it still manages to stand up even today. I just watched it again tonight, and unlike many films from its era, this baby still manages to entertain, to engage and to mystify…even now. It’s a tribute to Kubrick’s ultra-perfectionist nature that it clicks on so many levels, including directing, with his incredible use of the camera pungent throughout, music, with its score set to operatic levels in certain scenes, and acting, with everyone involved punching their thespian time-clocks in idyllically. Top of that list, is the film’s humble narrator, as he so likes to refer to himself throughout, who loves a bit of the ol’ ultra-violence, enjoys a certain Ludwig Van Beethoven and appreciates a decent rape every now and again. Obviously, the dude’s got a screw loose, but with society as it is obviously set in this film (a clever stroke not to mention the year in which it all takes place), he just seems to be taking advantage of his…natural tendencies?
Now having watched this puppy high as a kite once, I had noticed the interesting subtext of socialism in Alex’s group structure in the beginning. What’s groovier is that as the story progresses, we see a little bit of the dictatorship in the jail guard looking and acting like Hitler, and ultimately, the introduction of “choice” and “free will”, as democracy takes a shot at our lad near the end. Of course, that’s a whole bunch of hoopla painted under the film’s fine surface, and I’m sure to heck that there are several papers and internet sites dedicated to the dissection of this film’s “greater symbolic meaning”, so I won’t bore you with my two bits. Of course, no matter what you can “read” into this picture’s message, or even if you don’t read anything into it, the movie entertains, keeps you fascinated and takes you for a very curious ride alongside this peculiar fella with a flair for the words. In fact, all of the dialogue in the movie is a production on its own with English being its tongue of pleasure, but in reality, a whole new language of its own called “Nadsat” moving to the forefront. Invented by the author of the novel on which this film is based, Anthony Burgess, the language is a mix of what seems to be: baby talk, Russian, British slang and yeah…some of that Shakespeare twang. What makes it all cooler is that you can watch the film a few times before actually picking up on some of the words, like “horror-show” which means “cool” or “good”, my “P&M”, which stands for “pop and mom” and the ol’ “in out, in out” which…well, let’s face it, that’s not a very difficult one to decipher (fornication, baby!).
You should also try and watch the movie as a ballet once around. If you pay close attention to many of its scenes, they are delectably set to classical music, but not only in the very general sense of a score in a film, but in a very choreographed way, by which the high tempo of the tune will correlate with a scene’s higher energy and vice-versa. It’s actually quite incredible to behold and I can imagine how the film would likely still work as a whole, if all of its dialogue was removed and you watched it with the score alone (which is saying quite a bit). Of course, that’s not the case and the reality of the film is that it also combines various dramatic, violent and sexual situations, with funny moments, bright colors and stupendous imagery. In fact, to say that the film overplays its phallic symbols is quite the understatement. Many memorable scenes and characters are also imprinted in my mind including the hilarious Mr. Deltoid, who pays Alex a little visit at home and tries to talk some sense into the young lad, yes?? The slow-motion sequence in which Alex is walking alongside a body of water with his droog buddies and he suddenly goes gonzo on their ass. The classic scene of Alex with his eyes being held open with metal devices, the fast-motion ménage-a-trois, the suicide attempt, the opening close-up of Alex’s eye and the subsequent zooming away from…and so yes…so many more.
In fact, most of this movie is packed with memorable shots and characters. Alex is also played brilliantly by Malcolm McDowell with just the right amount of over-the-top cockiness, creepy frightfulness and pathetic vulnerability. His droog buddies are also choice, his parents a gas, the chief guard a blast and the writer is beyond hilarious. The scene in which he hears Alex humming “Singing in the Rain” again is a massive kick. The look on his face as Alex stuffs his face with spaghetti is one that always makes me crack up. Overall, the film works on most every level and a lot of it has to do with the directing, with Kubrick utilizing every trick in his photographic arsenal to make his points come across even clearer. He uses wide lenses, close-ups, hand-held cameras, quick edits, colorful credit sequence cards…basically anything and everything in his directing handbook, although not in a gimmicky sense, but truly to draw you further into this intriguing morality tale. It also goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that it’s a subject matter that is sure to spark discussion amongst viewers afterwards (especially if you’ve smoked a couple and can see things moving in the room). Whatever the case, this movie is a classic in every sense of the word with all of its many elements working together to create a unique and distinguishable work of art (yeah, it’s a cinematic art piece). It will entertain you, it will shock you, it will make you think and it will ultimately install itself inside the deeper crevices of your mind. A stupendous creation by a legendary artist.
The coolest thing about this movie is the scene in which Alex and his droog buddies break into the writer’s home and engage in some of the ol’ ultra-violence and rape, as the lead droog, Alex himself, croons “Singing in the Rain” all the while. The melody actually works as a “calming” element and renders the scene that much more effective. As you watch these maniacs committing their horror, you feel yourself being swept into the song and the “beauty” of the choreography, until you suddenly realize the sinful nature of your own enjoyment. That being said, was Kubrick trying to put us in the same shoes as those desensitized droogs who care not about their fellow man? Perhaps. Whatever the case, the scene is a classic beyond words (Tarantino even paid homage to it in PULP FICTION in the scene in which two of his characters are strapped up with a ball in their respective mouths) and definitely one of the cooler pieces of this masterful film.
Interesting tidbits about the film and its stars:
Note the album cover of Kubrick’s previous film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, in Alex’s “record store” sequence (slick cane!). As he walks up to the two sexy chicks sucking on their “lollipops”, you can clearly make out the cover below them. This film is based on the novel written by Anthony Burgess. During some of the later newspaper clipping scenes, you will note that Alex’s last name is also written in as Burgess. Coincidence? I think not. The actor who plays the writer’s muscle-bound bodyguard near the end of the film is David Prowse, who is best known for being the actual body under the Darth Vader costume in George Lucas’ first three STAR WARS installments. James Earl Jones provided the voice for Vader. It’s also to note that this movie was voluntarily withdrawn by Stanley Kubrick from the United Kingdom after it was criticized for being too violent. Kubrick said that the film would only be released there after his death and it was. Alex's cufflinks in this movie are bloody eyeballs.
NOTE: This review was originally published in my 2002 book entitled "JoBlo.com presents...The 50 Coolest Movies of All-Time". Please note that these reviews are dated, and the book actually features my own PERSONAL list of faves from 1970-2000 or so.