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It’s a film that once caused outrage and was even withdrawn from circulation by its own director following consultation with the police.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’s A 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.