A Clockwork Orange: The Cream and the Crock
Dir. Stanley Kubrick
Recently re-released at Village Cinemas
In the treacherous halls of Village Cinemas, Stanley Kubrick is a deity, an acceptable figure of seriousness amid all that hucksterism and cinematic prostitution. For years now a regular Friday and Saturday night ritual has been to unleash a decimated 35mm print of A Clockwork Orange onto the snarling crowds. And it can be enjoyed at so many levels! The fashion, so seventies. The dialogue, all googly in Nadsat swoony. The violence, whipped into a fine tasty pastry. At least these things are fine for the first half hour. For anyone who may have slipped out you missed one hell of a boring show. It's what men in stained raincoats paid for, and it's over. In passing, it's a death trip down route 66, impossibly boring, unfunny, shallow and crudely stylised.
Kubrick is a great director for stars-in-their-eyes teenagers, but you soon realise the game is up. All that star gazing gets mighty ponderous after awhile, and for complete cinematic redundancy look no further than this dreck. Over 25 years down the track, the film is in worse shape than ever. It is all technique, laboriously executed mixed sloppily with Carry-On style humour. Kubrick once again shows his talent for sinking great pieces of writing. While Lolita is a fine film in many respects, A Clockwork Orange completely misrepresents and reduces a great book. The novel is brilliantly written, Burgess achieving his Joycean attempt at immortality. It is also complex, a valid debate on the issue of free-will. Kubrick systematically dulls down these issues. In the words of Johnny in Naked: "Cheap thrills and plenty of 'em, no matter how vacuous or tawdry, as long as it flashes and bleeps in forty fucking colours". It's the charming chap with a tendency to maim against the stereotypical state, all thick framed glasses and drooling bureaucrats. The violent Alex is better and smarter than the others cos' he knows how to swindle in the acceptable Dickensian fashion. He's not lovable in an obvious way, but everything else around him is so horrible that he grows in humanistic stature as the film proceeds. It validates the lust for destruction, the banality of mindless violence. It is a celebration of the punk instinct. Forget social theory and the intelligent treatment of a convoluted topic. It's not about free will over all. It's about the bad and the worse, Kubrick's tidbit philosophy of self-belief, aggressive representation and "anything for a bit of fun" behaviour. And then there's the problem facing 25 years worth of timid critics. How to question the morality of a film without sounding like a frenzied censor grasping at straws and pointing fingers? Better to be controversial then boring. For those who only want fun and a bit of surrealism in their meal and care not for my argument, be prepared for the most stilted surrealist piece in the history of art. It's lobotimised hyperactivity.
The re-release of the film, a new 35mm print, should reveal all the cack underneath the crackle, but most critics, admittedly hacks puddling round in yesterdays analogies, still see the film as a "timely reminder of a still important social issue", and can proceed to a harsh criticism of John Howards policies on the young and wrap it up with a title punning on the film's "timely" reappearance. When's the last time someone clamped your eyes open and made you watch sickening films? In the end only the same Village patrons will know what that feels like. Kitsch is fine, worthy of cult artifacts and framed posters on executive walls. Write an essay about an abstract concept. Play dress ups. But strip away the queasiness of a swollen tongue in a bitter cheek and you are left with a worthless piece of cinema. You know it's true.
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