MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI 100*** #70. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.


“Welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, welly, well.”

When I was in high school, A Clockwork Orange was notorious for having been banned back in the day in my home state of Queensland.  None of us had read the book or knew very much about it, but the fact that it had been banned made it a must see.  This was before you could stream instantly, or download any movie in a few minutes, and even before DVD.  And I lived in a town small enough that there was only one copy of This is Spinal Tap between the dozen or so video shops.  Which gives you an idea of the selection on offer to me back then.  A friend got me the book of A Clockwork Orange for my 16th or 17th birthday and it blew my mind.  It also made seeing the movie even more necessary.

A few years later, DVDs made seeing movies like this possible and I was completely and totally underwhelmed.  Everything about the movie version of A Clockwork Orange was so fake, so over the top, so choreographed and artificial, that it took away all of the threat and menace of the book.  I also saw it around the time I was discovering that Stanley Kubrick just didn’t seem to be a film maker for me.  Doctor Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket had tricked me into believing the hype.  Then I saw the trifecta of The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey and, finally, A Clockwork Orange, and my Kubrick skepticism has been full effect ever since.

But, this AFI countdown is scattered with land mines like this (including more Kubrick to come), so I’m trying my best to be optimistic.  Maybe I’ll finally see what everyone else seems to, and come out the other end loving this movie and its director.  At the very least, I could get more concrete evidence to defend myself next time I need justify not liking this movie and its director.

Alex (Malcolm McDowell) leads gang of teenage thugs who love noting more than cruising the streets looking for other gangs to fight and the occasional house to invade, complete with a woman to rape.  When his gang decides Alex should no longer be their leader, they set him up to be caught by the police during their next mission of mayhem.

Once in prison. Alex becomes the guinea pig in a new form of brain washing rehabilitation.  With his eyes pried open in a scene that you’ll recognise whether you’ve seen this movie or not, the initial experiments seem successful and he’s let back into the society.  All the while, I found it impossible to care about any of it.

I will say this much for A Clockwork Orange, it is totally innovative, totally original, and so unique, it hasn’t even been copied since.  There really is no other movie like it.  And while I can respect the artistry and creativity that went into it, I still don’t like it as a movie.  I still think Kubrick is a victim of his own success and / or ego, and I still think his over the top artifice takes away from a story that was already over the top enough.

This is gonna seem like a weird comparison, but hear me out.  It’s like Airplane (AKA Flying High in Australia), or the best parts of The Naked Gun series.  The totally over the top, totally insane, totally idiotic jokes work so well because every single actor plays it straight.  No one seems like they’re in on the joke or winking at the camera.  When that happens, you get shit like the Scary Movie franchise

Anthony Burgess’ novel of A Clockwork Orange already built a perfectly insane and over the top world, populated with perfectly insane and over the top characters, and filled their mouths with perfectly insane and over the top dialogue.  I just wish Kubrick had got out of the way and let the story tell itself.  Instead, his own affectations are always there to smother it.

A Clockwork Orange
Directed By – Stanley Kubrick
Written By – Stanley Kubrick

Academy Awards
Best Picture (nominated, lost to The French Connection)
Best Director (Kubrick nominated, lost to William Friedkin for The French Connection)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Kubrick nominated, lost to Ernest Tidyman for The French Connection)

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