Clockwork Orange Re-released

Submitted by Rajan Malhotra on Sat, 02/26/2000 - 01:21

Twenty six years after it was initially withdrawn from cinema screens Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange is finally receiving a full UK wide distribution. Rajan Malhotra looks at how, with its notorious scenes of violence, A Clockwork Orange became one of the most darkly enigmatic works of the cinematic age.

During its absence, Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange has taken on a mystique which has rarely surrounded a film since. It has achieved a notoriety which has, over the years, given it something akin to legendary status.

From its defining opening shot in which Malcolm McDowell's crazed, malevolent expression peers out to the audience, A Clockwork Orange presents an uncomfortable world where unadulterated rage forms the only means of expression.

Anthony Burgess, the author of the novel upon which the film was based, had written A Clockwork Orange upon his return to Britain from Singapore. Having found that the country he had left was now splintered by gang and racial warfare, Burgess responded by writing a succession of novellas which recreated the seedy streets of London as he saw them; an Orwellian world patrolled by deviants and criminals and run according to a maxim which Burgess had adopted from TS Eliot, 'So far as we are human, what we do must be either evil or good; so far as we do evil or good, we are human; and it is better in a paradoxical way, to do evil than to do nothing.'

Kubrick adapted Burgess' vision for the cinema screen in lurid detail. His grotesque and at times alarming vision of a society, seen through the eyes of Alex, the teenage gang leader, was deemed too explicit for censors.

An initial 'X' certificate was reduced to 'R' after Kubrick agreed to make the necessary cuts but, despite relative box office success, the film was withdrawn, by Kubrick himself (apparently in response to death threats), in 1974.

It was only after 'A Clockwork Orange' had been withdrawn, that tales of copycat violence began to emerge. Many burdened the film with unsubstantiated claims that it had been responsible for various crimes on both sides of the Atlantic.

Perhaps the most infamous of these crimes was committed by Arthur Bremner whose failed assassination attempt on Governor George Wallace was, somewhat irrationally, attributed by a hysterical media to the fact that he had developed an apparent fixation with Kubrick's film.

Of course, the furore surrounding A Clockwork Orange had also, although perhaps to a lesser extent, manifested itself around a number of other films of the era.

William Friedkin's The French Connection and Don Siegel's Dirty Harry, both right-wing films, contained disturbing levels of violence.

Neither of these films, however, received the attention of the censors perhaps due to the fact that neither presented violence in as choreographed and stylised a form as Kubrick's film.

The soaring classical soundtrack - Alex was an aficionado of "Ludwig Van" Beethoven - which accompanied segments of A Clockwork Orange's violence was deemed distasteful and morally outrageous by censors.

With the enigmatic Kubrick having died last March, the film's release is timely. The moral outrage may have dissipated over time, yet there are still a minority who, even today, object to the film's return.

Yet, for those associated with 'A Clockwork Orange', there will perhaps be relief that it will no longer talked of in whispers and speculation as some freak of modern cinema.