There are few films, if any, that have caused as much controversy as Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. You only have to say the title and it fills some people with a sense of revulsion; and, as is the way with most controversial topics, some are unable to look past the horror of the violence and insist upon taking the film at face value. I urge you not to do this though, because it is absolutely fantastic.
It is the story of Alex, leader of his three droogs (friends), and his love affair with a bit of the old ultra-violence: they assault, steal, rape, and destroy, all for the fun of being young. In Kubrick’s adaptation Alex is expertly portrayed by the worryingly convincing Malcolm McDowell. We are introduced to the character as he stares into the camera, one eye surrounded with painted eyelashes, creating an uneasy impression of someone who is both sinister and intelligent. Though he is not who I envisaged when reading the book (which is even better than the film) McDowell is perfect for the role: delivering Alex’s unique brand of speech in a tone of blended youth and menace, while also handling the evolving dimensions to his character with similar conviction.
Perhaps what disturbs people most about this film is not only the violent acts themselves, but also the setting which they take place. A Clockwork Orange is not set in a dingy and desperate place with humanity on its last legs, but in an almost timeless future of vivid bright colours, accompanied by a unnervingly upbeat soundtrack, including little Alex’s favourite, the lovely lovely Ludwig van.
Like the films which Alex is later made to watch, it is a film of contrasts: just as the sound and music is in contrast to the violence throughout, so the violence is in contrast to the morality which it ultimately surrounds. It is a story about freedom, choice, and state control.
Interestingly though, and try not to think too less of me because of this, I thought one of the aspects which has become dated in A Clockwork Orange, is the violence. Near the start of the film Alex and his droogs run into a rival gang who are about to rape a young woman, but the ensuing scrap is more comical than threatening, and at times resembled a watered down version of a WWE Street Fight.
I can fully see why in 1971 such a picture caused a stir, but now that film and our familiarity with depicted violence has moved on so far, I think the film has lost some of its shock power, some of its raw edge.
I say this with trepidation, because most of the time I think classics should be left alone, but perhaps it is time to remake A Clockwork Orange. I have no desire to see most of the films which are scheduled for release over the coming years: Indiana Jones, Scarface, Ghostbusters etc: they are timeless, and in these cases easy money is the only motivation of the studios (although I am admittedly looking forward to Mad Max and am giddy about Star Wars.)
It’s a difficult one, because Kubrick’s original really is a brilliant film, and no-one wants to see it get tarnished; it is exceedingly unlikely that an adequate replacement for Malcolm McDowell can be found, and perhaps none of cinemas heavy-hitters would want to take up the challenge of filling Kubrick’s shoes. But based upon artistic rather than financial considerations, I think there is more of a case to remake A Clockwork Orange than many others that are already in the pipeline.
It’s a cliché to say it, but its themes and characters are just as relevant now as they were back in the ‘60s and ’70s: so with the right cast and director, which would be crucial so we don’t end up with some God awful slasher tripe, there could well be a case to be made for bringing little Alex into the 21st Century.
What your humble narrator is saying, O’ my brothers, is that it might well be time to bring back the horrorshow.