A Clockwork Orange is a 1971 film adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel of the same name. It was written, directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick. It features disturbing, violent images, facilitating its social commentary on psychiatry, youth gangs, and other social, political, and economic subjects in a dystopian, future Britain.
Alex (Malcolm McDowell), the main character, is a charismatic, sociopathic delinquent whose interests include classical music (especially Beethoven), rape, and what is termed “ultra-violence”. He leads a small gang of thugs (Pete, Georgie, and Dim), whom he calls his droogs (from the Russian друг, “friend”, “buddy”). The film chronicles the horrific crime spree of his gang, his capture, and attempted rehabilitation via controversial psychological conditioning. Alex narrates most of the film in Nadsat, a fractured adolescent slang comprising Slavic (especially Russian), English, and Cockney rhyming slang.
A Clockwork Orange features a soundtrack comprising mostly classical music selections and Moog synthesizer compositions by Wendy Carlos (then known as “Walter Carlos”). The now-iconic poster of A Clockwork Orange was created by designer Bill Gold.
Along with Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Wild Bunch (1969), Dirty Harry (1971) and Straw Dogs (1971), the film is considered a landmark in the relaxation of control on violence in the cinema. In the United Kingdom, A Clockwork Orange was very controversial and withdrawn from release by Kubrick himself. By the time it was re-released in 2000, it had attained “cult film” status. It is 21st in the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Thrills and number 46 in the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies, although in the second listing it is ranked 70th of 100. “Alex De Large” is listed 12th in the villains section of the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains. In 2008, the AFI’s 10 Top 10 rated A Clockwork Orange as the 4th greatest science-fiction movie to date.
In the United States, A Clockwork Orange was rated X in its original release form. Kubrick later, voluntarily, replaced some 30 seconds of sexually explicit footage, from two scenes, with less bawdy action, for an R rating re-release in 1973. Current DVDs present the original X-rated form, and only some of the early 1980s VHS editions are the R-rated form.
The National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures rated it C (“Condemned”) because of the explicit sex and violence. Conceptually, said the rating of condemnation forbade Roman Catholics from seeing A Clockwork Orange. In 1982, the Office abolished the “Condemned” rating; hence, films the Conference of Bishops deem to have unacceptable sex and violence are rated O, “Morally Offensive”.
The British authorities considered the sexual violence extreme, furthermore, there occurred legal claims that the movie A Clockwork Orange had inspired true copycat crimes, as per press cuttings at the British Film Institute. In March 1972, at trial, the prosecutor accusing the fourteen-year-old-boy defendant of the manslaughter of a classmate, referred to A Clockwork Orange, telling the judge that the case had a macabre relevance to the film. The attacker, a Bletchley boy of sixteen, pleaded guilty after telling police that friends had told him of the film “and the beating up of an old boy like this one”; defence counsel told the trial “the link between this crime and sensational literature, particularly A Clockwork Orange, is established beyond reasonable doubt”. The press also blamed the film for a rape in which the attackers sang “Singin’ in the Rain”. Christiane Kubrick, the director’s wife, has said that the family received threats and had protesters outside their home. Subsequently, Kubrick asked Warner Brothers to withdraw the film from British distribution, disliking the allegation that the film was responsible for copycat violence in real life. Quoting Kubrick: “To try and fasten any responsibility on art as the cause of life seems to me to put the case the wrong way around. Art consists of reshaping life but it does not create life, nor cause life. Furthermore, to attribute powerful suggestive qualities to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis, in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures.” The Scala Cinema Club went into receivership in 1993 after losing a legal battle following an unauthorized screening of the film.
Whatever the reason for the film’s withdrawal, for some 27 years, it was difficult to see the film in the United Kingdom. It reappeared in cinemas, and the first VHS and DVD releases followed soon after Kubrick’s death in 1999. On 4 July 2001, the uncut A Clockwork Orange had its premiere broadcast on Sky TV’s Sky Box Office; the run was until mid-September.