A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange

That iconic wide shot of the flatblock marina.

‘A Clockwork Orange’ is a deranged piece of required viewing that has entered the annals of popular culture.

I distinctly remember the first time I watched ‘A Clockwork Orange’. I was only 11-years-old and it was a rainy, overcast afternoon – perfect conditions for watching a film. I was aware of the film’s notoriety; I remembered my dad’s excitement when he managed to find a copy of it in France in the late 1990s, telling me that it had been banned by the director in our country.

Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, and sometime between then and 2004 a newly released English copy had been bought, presumably by my dad. With a certain degree of espionage, I managed to find the VHS and slip it into my all-in-one television and VCR player.

As soon as the stark red and blue colouring of the opening scene flooded the screen, I was captivated. The strange aesthetic and Wendy Carlos’ haunting Moog synthesiser soundtrack was unlike anything I had ever seen, I was utterly compelled by it and I knew I was watching something really special.

The film follows Alex and his three ‘Droogs’, a gang of amoral young men who spend their evenings beating, stealing and raping. Since my initial viewing all those years ago, I have realised that it was the terrific energy of the film’s first hour or so that gripped me as an 11-year-old boy. Yes, you’re watching the Droogs ‘tolchock’ and rape, however Alex’s completely unhinged life unravels on the screen with such vitality; it’s a thrillingly deranged trip that swiftly grabs and immerses its viewer like few films manage.

There is no other film that is quite like ‘A Clockwork Orange’. It is riddled with idiosyncrasies, with its gaudy costumes, futuristic interior design and particularly ‘Nadsat’, the Droogs’ esoteric language, some of which has since entered common parlance. It is also a film that truly feels British, particularly in its humour, which comes chiefly through the comments and sometimes rather slapstick actions of the eccentric central character. One of its foremost merits lies in Wendy Carlos’ wonderful score. It blends classical pieces such as Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Carlos’ Moog synthesiser renditions of  Beethoven and Baroque music including Henry Purcell’s March.

There’s no doubt that the film aestheticises violence and indeed glorifies the central character Alex DeLarge. Malcolm McDowell gives Alex an undeniable charisma that charms you, making him an antihero that you find yourself very much rooting for. During all of his nastiness he is never hateful, not in the slightest; he has that infamous sideways grin that’s menacing and amusing in equal measure. I consider McDowell’s iconic, oddball performance to be one of cinema’s greatest.

All of this, of course, poses something of a moral dilemma. As the film progresses, our charismatic antihero who has both charmed us and appalled us finds himself up against the government. What ensues appears to be somewhat dubious and confused in its stance and meaning.

Some may think the film advocates delinquency, but I disagree. The key to the film’s success is that it doesn’t give any definite answers; instead, it explores the complexities and difficulties of crime and punishment, presenting us with this dystopian vision of sheer state control. While Alex is certainly a great character, those who idolise him are far too impressionable to be watching the film.

‘A Clockwork Orange’ is a spectacular synthesis of absurd aesthetic, striking cinematography, innovative music and an exceptional lead actor supported by a strong, interesting cast. It is a piece of required viewing that’s entered the annals of popular culture.

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The Most Painful Scenes in Cinema History

Personally, I find the stubbing of a toe or stepping on Lego infinitely more wince inducing than a big, bloody shootout.  There were numerous other clips I considered, however I felt they were more appropriately placed on a ‘most violent’ list. So instead of the cinema’s most violent, I name cinema’s most painful. Defining what’s cringe worthy is quite a subjective matter, so see if you agree. (Warning: Contains spoilers)

#10  Pet Sematary (1989)

The familiarity of this scene is what makes it so toe curling. Bedrooms may be a place of rest, but unforgiving bed posts and bedside tables can wreak havoc on your knees, elbows, ankles and in this case, entire face. This brief yet utterly visceral moment is the only thing I can remember about ‘Pet Sematary’, and it’s actually much funnier than I remember.

#9 Midnight Express (1978)

This scene demonstrates that when the nape of the neck and a large metal coat hook collide, the coat hook wins. The thought of that tender area of your body being penetrated so violently sends an unpleasant sensation down my spine. This scene is especially shocking when seen in context, it completely catches you off guard.  The pain begins at 1:28.

#8 ‘Thanksgiving’ Grindhouse Trailer (2007)

I know, this isn’t a film, but this little homage achieved the hard task of making me absolutely gasp. Although the scene is of a blade colliding with genitalia, it is spared of violence and successfully relies on your imagination to contemplate the ghastly damage. The pain begins at 4:50.

#7 The Shining (1980)

Jack Nicholson’s ad-libbed ‘Here’s Johnny!’ is one of the most famous lines in the annals of cinema history, it’s also followed by one of cinema’s cringiest injuries.  The pain begins at 1:54.

#6 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The sight of Leatherface having a wrench thrown at his head by a fat man in a mustard coloured t-shirt is undeniably funny, but the viewer immediately recoils when he falls over and cuts a few inches of flesh out of his thigh. Having a whirring chainsaw lacerate your leg makes for a very risky shot, but given the tight budget and notoriously intense filming conditions, something tells me that director Tobe Hooper slipped Gunnar Hansen a few dollar bills to injure himself in the name of exploitation cinema. The infamous meat hook scene is also bitingly painful. The pain shortly after 1:25.

#5 Goodfellas (1990)

This is a scene so painful, so completely agonising, that it bypasses your intellect and actually physically hurts you more and more with each blow of the pistol butt. The opening scene to ‘Goodfellas’ is also very vicious, but I think this just about edges in front of it on the pain-o-meter.

#4 Un Chien Andalou (1929)

You wouldn’t have thought that a French film from 1929 would make it into the top 10, let alone come in at number 4. This looks so horribly, wince inducingly real because it is, only it was the eye of a dead horse. I remember showing this to my father and he reacted with total dismay – “Why have you shown me this?! Why do you watch things like this?! Why do they make things like this?!”

#3 American History X (1998)

Here is another scene that is blood free yet jarringly visceral. ‘Curb stomping’ really is an evil, barbaric thing to do to someone, I don’t think even Hitler deserved this.

#2 127 Hours (2010)

Everyone knows the story before they watch ‘127 Hours’, but that does nothing to soften the blow of the amputation scene that the audience has been anxiously awaiting for the past 80 minutes. It certainly didn’t soften the blow for one viewer at the screening I was in. Shortly after the amputation scene, I heard ‘Can someone phone an ambulance?’ emanate from the back of the auditorium, for a split second I attributed it to the surround sound, but knowing that clearly wasn’t the case, I quickly realised that someone had fainted. Once they had been taken out of the screening, the distinct smell of vomit began to pervade the room. I pitied them, but they certainly gave the film a sense of occasion!

#1 Misery (1990)

This scene is infamous and for good reason. Seldom have I empathised with a character as much as I did with the defenceless Paul Sheldon (James Caan), what a sorry, sorry predicament to find oneself in.  I’d love to see an audience’s reaction to this one.