|A Clockwork Orange|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 12 June 2001|
The notion of gangs of teenaged boys who recreationally commit home invasions, raping and maiming, only to return innocent-faced to unaware parents seems more like real life than fiction these days. Still, Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his droogs (that’s "friends") have a unique style, what with their penchant for narcotic-spiked milk, sparkling clean white outfits and black bowler hats. Alex loves both Beethoven and show tunes: he sings and dances to "Singing in the Rain" while raping a woman and battering her husband -- all part of a typical "fun" night out. When Alex is finally caught and sentenced to prison, he sees a way out by volunteering for an experimental cure that buys his freedom at the cost of his free will. Alex’s violent, sadistic impulses now make him sick -- and defenseless against the violence of others.
Director/scenarist Stanley Kubrick often seemed to view characters as symbols rather than people (taken to an extreme in ‘2001’), but he changes the rules for Alex. McDowell as Alex is like an evil elf, drawing us in with his friendly, sympathy-craving narration, taking a tone that’s a polar opposite to the brutality of his actions. Kubrick -- and the splendid McDowell -- toss us back and forth from being momentarily charmed to absolutely horrified to pitying Alex against our will, involving us emotionally as well as intellectually. We’re fascinated from the start of Chapter 2, when Alex’s smirking, asymmetrically made-up face fills the screen. As the shot gradually pulls back to include Alex’s body, then his friends, then the bar that they’re in, Kubrick gives us the sense that Alex’s environment is an extension of the character.
While there are a few small white spots that appear on the print, most notably in Chapters 2 and 8, the colors here are vivid and the images sharp. Chapter 9 has a couple of shots (facing an open, daylit window) that look a little washed out, but this may be due entirely to the original lighting. Chapter 4 has enormous clarity in its whites, blacks and blue shadows and the hues are especially rich in Chapter 12 as Alex and his mates fall to quarreling.
Although the soundtrack is in mono, the sound mix is clean and distinct. Screams and classical music (a recurring mixture here) co-exist boldly, neither compromising the other. The echoing ambience of the large spaces Kubrick favors is preserved with integrity and Chapter 30, which relies on a character hearing a song from the floor above through his ceiling, gives us the sense of sound transcending a physical barrier without muffling or distortion. Only in Chapter 13 does the sound briefly lose its punch.
Many filmmakers have tried to invent mythologies that impose themselves on the consciousness of the viewer. With ‘Clockwork Orange,’ director Kubrick, author Burgess and actor McDowell create a reality onscreen that is saddening yet utterly compelling and cohesive.