Has A Clockwork Orange finally been rehabilitated?

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It’s a film that once caused outrage and was even withdrawn from circulation by its own director following consultation with the police.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

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10 Things You Never Knew About The Making Of A Clockwork Orange

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.

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Who would dare remake ‘Lolita’ in the age of #metoo?

The poster designed for the 1962 theatrical release of Stanley Kubrick’s screen adaptation of “Lolita” is one of the most brilliant and famous in movie history. It features a close-up of Sue Lyon, the actress who played Lolita, gazing at us not quite directly. She wears red, heart-shaped sunglasses, one brown eye peeking over the top, and sucks on a red, heart-shaped lollipop. There’s a provocative air to this image of Lyon as Lolita in the movie poster, and a near-pornographic dimension as well — one that is found neither in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel nor in Kubrick’s film — and the provocation doesn’t end there. The poster’s real brilliance is its two-part tag line: Above the image of Lyon, in big letters, it asks: “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” At the bottom right, in smaller type, is a phrase that could be read as the continuation of the question, or a censor’s warning: “For persons over 18 years of age.”

While conventional movie ads try to tempt us to see the film by directly or indirectly hinting at its subject and character, the ones for Kubrick’s movie were presented as an ironic challenge, and alluded to the fact that when it was made the industry’s internal censorship guidelines — the Motion Picture Production Code, known as the Hays Code — still prevailed in Hollywood.

Despite the novel’s great commercial success – it became a best-seller that every cultured person had to read, or at least claim to have read — it seemed inconceivable when it was came out, in 1955, that it would ever be made into a movie due to its scandalous nature. In fact, most of the film’s production budget was obtained in Britain, where Kubrick had moved in 1961, and like all the rest of Kubrick’s films from that time on, was shot in Britain, even though the action is set in America and an important part of the plot involves a journey through its ugly landscapes.

The film was distributed in the United States by MGM, which was once known for putting its imprimatur on prestige films suitable for the whole family, though the company’s fortunes had been on the decline since the late 1940s. It had its American premiere on June 13, 1962. It had an estimated budget of $2 million, and it brought in $9 million in America, so it could be called a box-office success, although it was panned by most of the important movie critics of that era. It earned just one Oscar nomination — for Nabokov, for best adapted screenplay. Nabokov was credited as the sole screenwriter, but the notable differences between the book and the movie indicate that Kubrick was surely the dominant one behind the transformation of “Lolita” into a film. [. . . ]

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