“I’m siiingin’ in the rain…”
There’s been a few darker entries on this list thus far, so I thought why not lighten the mood with a bit of the old ultra-violence? Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange came at an interesting time for the acclaimed director, immediately following his monumental 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and a point when he was just getting settled in the calmer (in some ways safer) environment of the UK after concerns of how rough his native New York had become. This film would considerably alter that perception, presenting Kubrick something with which he was not unfamiliar during the course of his career: controversy.
It’s somewhat interesting that Kubrick himself was reportedly a kind, gentle introvert who shied away from media attention. Many of his films were anything but that. Though A Clockwork Orange was arguably the most outrageous of all his work – in the eyes of the press at least. It starred Malcolm McDowell as the fiendishly charismatic Alex, the films ‘protagonist’ who spends day and night prowling the city with his ‘droogs’ as they commit all sorts of nefarious crimes in the carefree manner of young energetic males. One of the most memorable scenes has him rape a woman while singing “Singin’ in the Rain” – as infamous a sequence as Gene Kelly’s 1952 rendition is famous.
But this is NOT a gratuitous experience, out to simply glorify the violence its main characters perpetrate. Kubrick was never interested in creating controversy for the sake of it: he always seemed to have a point in his methods. I posted a review of the film last year in which I talked a little about what I think that point is here. It’s a film about the importance of being able to choose; to express ourselves freely, even if our choices are deemed ‘wrong’ in the eyes of those who see themselves above us. In light of certain events in the past few months, its message is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago – if not more so. This timeless quality is another thing many of Kubrick’s films had in common.
A Clockwork Orange is notable for another reason; being one of the few examples of a director pulling his own film from distribution. The film became the subject of mass hysteria courtesy of the media, who jumped on the opportunity to blame it on rising levels of violence in Britain at the time. Kubrick, dismayed at the misunderstanding that greeted his movie, and in the face of threats to his family as a result, showed an unprecedented level of influence by convincing the film’s distributor to remove it from UK shores. Yet this was not an admission that all of its critics were right. In response to them, Kubrick said it better than I can:
“To try and fasten any responsibility on art as the cause of life seems to me to put the case the wrong way around. Art consists of reshaping life, but it does not create life, nor cause life. Furthermore, to attribute powerful suggestive qualities to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures.” (Quoted in Stanley Kubrick: The Complete Films by Paul Duncan)