As the Stanley Kubrick classic arrives on streaming platforms, Geoffrey Macnab reflects on the film’s contentious history – and why its satire is as sharp and relevant as ever
It’s a film that once caused outrage and was even withdrawn from circulation by its own director following consultation with the police. Copycat acts of violence were blamed on it and cinemas were closed down for showing it. Nonetheless, in 2020, Stanley Kubrick’sA Clockwork Orange (1971) appears finally to have been rehabilitated. Once almost impossible to see, it is currently available to stream on Amazon in the UK and is one of the “classic” new movies out on Netflix in the US this month.
If you’re bored of The Crown or jaded by watching yet another Scandi-noir box set in lockdown, you can therefore give yourself a jolt with “a bit of the old ultra-violence” as the “droog” protagonist Alex (Malcolm McDowell) describes his gang’s behaviour. One of cinema’s most notorious movies is only a click away.
In the first 10 minutes of the film alone, Alex and his pals kick an old drunk almost to death beneath an underpass, have a vicious scrap with a rival gang and break into a writer’s house. They cripple the writer (Patrick Magee) while raping his wife (Adrienne Corri). The scene is all the more disconcerting because Alex performs his misdeeds while dancing around, giving a sprightly rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain”. There is something disturbing too about the way the droogs spend their leisure time, between bouts of violence, enjoying soft drinks in the Korova Milk Bar.
A Clockwork Orange is regarded as a cinematic classic today, and there’s a lot about its filming fans need to know.
Despite its disturbing subject matter, A Clockwork Orange became one of the most popular movies of 1971. Yet, because it inspired instances of real-life violence in Kubrick’s adopted homeland of England, the fastidious auteur pulled the film from cinemas in the U.K., where it remained out of circulation until a year after Kubrick’s untimely death in 1999. For more, here are 10 Things You Never Knew About the Making of A Clockwork Orange.
10. It Originally Received An X-Rating
Upon its initial theatrical release, A Clockwork Orange was slapped with an X-rating for its wildly inappropriate subject matter involving graphic rape and extreme violence. Moreover, it was just the second X-rated film in the history of cinema to be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy Awards (Midnight Cowboy).
As he was known to do, Kubrick pulled the X-rated cut of the film from the theaters in 1973, cut the most disturbing images, and resubmitted the film to the MPAA and earned an R-rating. Kubrick then had his assistant annihilate all unused footage from the film.
9.The Droogs’ Slang Is Based On Real Languages
One of the most unique aspects of both the book and film versions of A Clockwork Orange is the distinct slang that Anthony Burgess created. The specific language has been dubbed by Burgess as “Nadsat,” which is a combination of English, Russian, and slang.
The Korova Milk Bar uses Russian verbiage, as the word Moloko (meaning cow) can be seen on the wall inside the bar. Kubrick was worried about relying too heavily on Nadsat in the film, which was also a major gripe about the novel. A Nadsat glossary was even added to the second and third editions of the novel.
Not long after the release of the film adaptation, Anthony Burgess embarked on an ambitious companion to his seminal novel. But it was never published, and the manuscript went unread — until now.
Gather round, my droogs. It’s time for a story.
Not long after the 1971 release of the film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange, the novel’s author, Anthony Burgess, received an offer from a publisher: Write a short follow-up to the novel, one that uses the word “Clockwork” in the title and brims with artwork, and we will make you a rich man.
So, according to Burgess scholar Andrew Biswell, the novelist got to work on a brief piece, which soon became a big piece, which eventually ballooned to 200 pages. Written under the name The Clockwork Condition, the work was to be a philosophical meditation on the very nature of modern life. But alas, it never was — the manuscript was never published, and despite rumors of the project, it was never found either.