Wednesday, February 07, 2007

'A Clockwork Orange' ...

(Before I talk about the movie, allow me to revel in the fact that the temperature in these parts is forecasted to climb into double digits today, though it is presently -4.)

OK, so I struggled to get through the rest of Stanley Kubrick's early-'70s psychotic episode last night. I've seen bits and pieces of "A Clockwork Orange" over the years, but I've never put them in order in my head.

Now I have.

And you know what I think? I think Kurbrick must have failed a philosophy class somewhere along the line.

When I was in college, I took an intro philosophy class. I remember syllogisms. That's about it.

But then there was Senior Honors, a year of study with three professors, a program for which you had to apply and be accepted. I applied for my junior year with what I thought was a very clever one-page essay. It did the trick.

And so I took a class with an English professor with roots in philosophy, a man who clearly was used to dealing with grad students. One day, as class took a break, I mentioned to him that I was going to get something to drink and asked if I could get him anything. He seemed somewhat stymied by the question. Perhaps he was unaccustomed to basic kindness. I seem to remember him agreeing to a Sprite. Maybe it was a Coke.

What I do remember, though, was when it came time to write that quarter's paper, I had no idea what I was talking about. But based on past philosophy experiences, my own and those of my friend Brian who was double-majoring in philosophy and architecture, I proceeded to write the most convoluted paper I could craft.

(I just flipped through my college-paper folder, the few that I culled from all the files from all the classes. Not surprisingly, I didn't save the paper I wrote for Ned. It was likely relegated to a landfill long ago. Too bad. It would be entertaining to read it today.)

Anyway, watching "A Clockwork Orange" felt like writing that paper. Many have raved about its social commentary. Roger Ebert wasn't buying it. His review begins, "Stanley Kubrick's 'A Clockwork Orange' is an ideological mess, a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading as an Orwellian warning. It pretends to oppose the police state and forced mind control, but all it really does is celebrate the nastiness of its hero, Alex." Ebert's entire review is here.

Yup. Alex, with his false eyelashes, phallic prosthetic nose, and exaggerated codpiece, is quite the son of a bitch. In Alex's world, beating up drunks and raping women are ways to pass time between visits to his gang's milk-bar hangout. Of course, it's not just regular milk. And it's not dispensed in a regular way.

Eventually, all his nasty behavior catches up with him, which brings on the second half of the movie, which I didn't like any more than the first.

It felt contrived and indulgent, a way for Kubrick to flail about a lot of penises and undress a lot of women. Maybe he was trying to make some kind of statement about man's basest motivations. I think he just figured that if he made it all really weird and slapped some Beethoven over the whole mess, people would think it was genius.

The same way I tried to write the most absurd paper I could for the Senior Honors class, figuring that if it didn't really make sense, it would probably pass for philosophy.

Many hailed Kubrick's film as a masterpiece.

My professor gave me a B.

Close enough.


Anonymous Ethan said...

To some extent, the writer of the original story is to blame, not necessarily Kubrick. it's like faulting Richard Linklater for the writing of A Scanner Darkly. My understanding as I watched Clockwork was that it was an adaptation of a novel that (again, to my understanding) was fairly groundbreaking for its time. Once again, I think enough time has passed that the "punch" of the movie/story is dramatically lessened because, heck, you can't spit at the video rental place without hitting a movie where the bad guys win.

The important trivia in Clockwork was, that's where the 80's band Heaven 17 got their name. I never bothered reading/watching Naked Lunch because after Steely Dan, what else is there?

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Oh, and it was cool to see Darth Vader out of uniform (David Prowse as the old man's assistant).

8:56 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

To some degree, the author is culpable, but as this is a movie, the visual style of it, the direction of it, is all Kubrick's. To quote Ebert on that point:

"Alex is violent because it is necessary for him to be violent in order for this movie to entertain in the way Kubrick intends. Alex has been made into a sadistic rapist not by society, not by his parents, not by the police state, not by centralization and not by creeping fascism -- but by the producer, director and writer of this film, Stanley Kubrick. Directors sometimes get sanctimonious and talk about their creations in the third person, as if society had really created Alex. But this makes their direction into a sort of cinematic automatic writing. No, I think Kubrick is being too modest: Alex is all his.

I say that in full awareness that "A Clockwork Orange" is based, somewhat faithfully, on a novel by Anthony Burgess. Yet I don't pin the rap on Burgess. Kubrick has used visuals to alter the book's point of view and to nudge us toward a kind of grudging pal-ship with Alex."

I'll add a link to Ebert's review in the post.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's face it. Stanley Kubrick had his ups and downs. "Eyes Wide Shut" might be one of the most unwatchable movies ever made (it made "Ishtar" look like entertainment) and who the heck knows what it's about? The Burgess novel was groundbreaking for its time for its look into a violent future. Another good reason to read the book BEFORE you see the movie!

4:23 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Good point, Anon. I should have read the book first. Alas, I did not. Wikipedia has a collection of the difference between the movie and the book. ( ) Clearly, the book was darker in some ways

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Yeah, I'd sooner crucify EWS than Clockwork.

Re: Ups, as I mull on this weighty subject I'd have to say Dr. Strangelove and 2001 are his top 2. I am loathe to rank them further.

(I never did see Full Metal Jacket - I'm an Apocalypse Now guy.)

1:02 PM  

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