For a film studies class, we had to write up our top 10 films and give explanations for all. My favourite film is ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – steeped in controversy throughout its career, Kubrick withdrew its distribution in the UK and Mary Whitehouse was rumoured to have walked out of it. So why do I like the controversial, cult, pop-culture classic? Read on…
A Clockwork Orange is my favourite film for many reasons. The main reason why I love this film so much is because of how I heard of it. I’d heard of it when I was 12, atschool, we had to dress up as movie characters in films, and somebody dressed up all in white, with a bowler hat, cane, and made sure one eyelid was lifted up by some mascara: he was dressed as Alex from A Clockwork Orange. I’d heard that it was a dark film; at the age of 12, the ’18 certificate’ (which Clockwork has) holds this mythical status because you can’t watch it and only adults can. As with most 18 films which are banned, controversial, or are dubbed: ‘shocking and sick’ – when you’re 12, you go to see them for these reasons:
1) You want to see how ‘sick’ it is
2) You feel rebellious because you’re watching something which only adults can watch
In simple terms, A Clockwork Orange is the greatest ‘youth movie’ ever made.
Before I saw it, I read the book first because I couldn’t get a copy, the book was also banned in some schools and dubbed ‘controversial’; however, unlike films, books don’t have the equivalent of the BBFC or the MPAA, so I could read it. Reading the book made me love the film further because I understood Alex as a character even more. The book involves a Russian-english slang called ‘nadsat’ which the writer, Anthony Burgess, invented; as you read through the book, you learn the nadsat. The nadsat is also used in the film, I imagine if I watched the film without reading the book, I wouldn’t grasp the dialogue very well, however, because I’ve read the book, I understand the nadsat, making the film more coherent, therefore, perhaps more enjoyable.
The first time I watched it was downstairs at 10pm on ITV. My mum was on the sofa asleep, my thumb pressed on the ‘change channel button’ just in case she woke up. It was a thrilling watch because I was felt so rebellious. I’d only managed to watch the first five minutes of it, because mum unfortunately woke up. However, I can safely say that those five minutes of film were the most impactful five minutes I’d ever felt. I remember going up the stairs that night, and thinking that I had to watch that film which was being shown on ITV. Around 2 weeks later, I found a website which showed it, and even on a small, smudged and scratched laptop screen, A Clockwork Orange managed to bring across its magic.
Another reason being that its power never fades away, every time I watch it I always feel disturbed, always laugh, always feel guilty for laughing, always feel frightened. Every time I watch it, I notice something else, it feels like a different film each time I watch it because there’s so much to it. The film grows on me each and every time I see it. For example, the first time I saw it, I didn’t know whether to like it or not because I felt that it promoted rape and violence due to the fact Beethoven and Rossini played in the background in these scenes. However, on a second viewing, I realised that I was meant to feel disturbed by Alex’s actions as the music makes his actions seem more disturbing. I realised that we’re supposed to dislike how Alex treats his victims and how Alex is treated by the state, as Kubrick thought that it was about how far the state is willing to go to prevent crime and overcrowded prisons.
Also, A Clockwork Orange is one of the few films which has changed the way I view films entirely, it has showed me that films don’t have to be made in a default straightforward way, they don’t have to create realism. In this film, Kubrick has been incredibly imaginative in terms of its unique ‘look’, the korova milk bar in terms of its set is so original and unique: the manikins, the words written on the wall, the intense white lightbulbs – all make this set-piece to be a memorable and arresting piece of imagery.
However, even though A Clockwork Orange is disturbing in places, it is incredibly funny in others. The humour is black and very absurd. There are many absurdly humorous elements in the film: Alex killing the ‘catlady’ with a sculpture of a penis (LOL!!), the fast motion sex scene in time to the finale of William Tell Overture. It’s this emotional manipulation which makes this film so impactful, Kubrick is a true puppet-master, one moment I could be terrified, and the next I’d be laughing. This is perhaps why the first time I watched it, I didn’t know whether to like it or not as I didn’t know how to feel, however, after repeated viewings, the film became clearer, and I understood it more, meaning that each time I watch it the film has more impact on my emotionally.
Like most of Kubrick’s films, the film poses questions rather than answers. The main question being about free-will and state control: is it right for the government to strip away criminal’s free-will to make them ‘good’, even though goodness comes from within (to turn them into ‘clockwork oranges’)? Even though Kubrick thought of this film as a fable rather than a forecast, I still feel that the question: ‘is this our future?’- is more relevant today than it was when A Clockwork Orange was released in 1971. We hear of rapes and murders happening frequently on the news, and with the London riots occurring, surely this is a ‘fable’ worth listening to?
A Clockwork Orange works on every level: an emotional level (audience manipulating: disturbing, frightening and funny), a technical level (the camera work and music) and a philosophical level (the questions it poses). It’s a damn horrorshow film.