Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).
This month, we’re reclining at the Korova Milkbar and reviewing some choice cuts from the filmography of Stanley Kubrick.
“You’ll never be able to watch Singin’ in the Rain the same way again.” This is often the warning that accompanies the 1971 adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, which Stanley Kubrick wrote, directed and produced.
Alex (Malcolm McDowell) narrates and leads this ultra-violent story, as he and his gang of “droogs” – Pete, Georgie and Dim – embark on a crime spree including theft, rape, and eventual murder. Alex is incarcerated but is chosen for a controversial rehabilitation experiment that utilises psychological conditioning to “cure” criminals, which may prove to be Alex’s saving grace.
What initially impresses is the unusual manner in which Alex narrates; called Nadsat, it is a combination of Slavic and cockney English rhyming slang. While one does become accustomed to it, it is, at first, jarring for those unfamiliar. Thankfully, if one can make it past the Nadsat (and past the violent scenes), they may find themselves rewarded by a stylish and surprisingly modern film.
Set in a futuristic England, the movie impresses on several levels but perhaps more so for the set design and costumes, as well as the soundtrack, which resonates and chills. While the combination of these elements screams Kubrick, they also don’t date the picture, instead providing a glimpse of an out of control society that could exist today.
A Clockwork Orange is a film that demands repeat viewings to comprehend the many subtleties that could go unnoticed amongst the dry wit and lush language. Ultimately what makes this one to seek out is McDowell’s performance, which sways between psychotic and sympathetic; it is a testament to his portrayal of Alex that made me keep watching beyond the debauchery on display in the opening act.
While considered a classic amongst Kubrick devotees, and earning itself an impressive four Academy Award nominations – for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay – many will find the film disorientating and challenging. For style alone, A Clockwork Orange is unquestionably a British classic that further rewards the more you open your mind. A word of warning however; this is not for the fainthearted.
Next week: Simon discusses the unusual relationship between Humbert Humbert and his Lolita.
A Clockwork Orange is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and can be streamed via Quickflix’s WatchNow service.