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A Clockwork Orange

Review Written by: Estefan Ellison
Film: A+
Video/Audio/Extras: A-/A-/A

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick
Based on the book by: Anthony Burgess
Produced by: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Warren Clarke, James Marcus, Patrick Magee, Godfrey Quigley
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it!

Stanley Kubrick was a filmmaker who continually tried to both shock and amaze his audience, but most importantly he wanted people to come back again and again to unlock the layers of secrets hidden beneath his films. Plenty has been told regarding the impact of his A Clockwork Orange upon its original release, yet even looking at the film in it's own terms, it's easy to see why it's regarded as such a masterpiece. Kubrick adapted Anthony Burgess's equally brilliant book rather faithfully, but still giving the film his own mark. His films have been criticised for being cold and heartless, yet it's almost necessary for A Clockwork Orange to be filmed in such a style. Kubrick portrays his near-future as bleak and lacking the Utopian feel that most science-fiction writers were predicting. Reading the headlines in today's newspaper, the futuristic world depicted in A Clockwork Orange has unfortunately come true. This goes both for the portrayal of youthful aggression as well as the government's attempts to rid the world of it.

Teenage violence at its worst is personified in the lead character of A Clockwork Orange, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm McDowell). Alex is a parent's worst nightmare: He is cruel, violent, cold-blooded, but filled with intelligence, which he unfortunately does not put to better use. Alex romps around town with his gang of "droogs", raping and hurting innocent individuals just for the fun of it. One of the most disturbing (of many) sequences in the film is the scene in which is rapes a writer's wife while dancing and skipping along to "Singin' in the Rain." A seemingly innocent song about love is used in a means completely the opposite of its original intention, thus why it's such a disturbing part of the film. What's even worse is Alex knows that what he is doing is wrong, but his lack of conscience causes him to not care what society thinks of him and his ideas of fun. Kubrick's uncanny ability to seemingly combine beautiful classical music to a montage of horrifying comes into play in A Clockwork Orange, with Alex's admiration towards the works of "Ludwig van." Beethoven Ninth Symphony is turned from a wonderful piece of music to something particularly saddening as we learn how much this sadistic rapist obsesses over it and "As I slooshied, I knew such lovely pictures!" These so-called "lovely pictures" which contain such R-rated material as rape, violence and blood pouring out of Alex's fangs would probably scare Beethoven due to the way Kubrick so perfectly edits the images together.

Yet, there comes an interesting turn-around when Alex is arrested and sent to prison. Soon afterwards, the tone of the film completely changes as Alex begins to play nice and the film becomes far less disturbing and chaotic than the first act was. Alex wants to get back out into the world as quickly as possible and when he hears of a technique that will help him do so, he jumps to the chance. He is soon put in the Ludovico Technique, involving him being strapped to a chair, his eyes made un-shutable and forced to watch horrible acts of violence on a cinema screen. When Alex's beloved Ninth Symphony begins playing over images of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, it is then that the effects take hold. Even Alex of all people realises that he is an amateur compared to the atrocities the Nazis performed during the Holocaust. This leads to an effect more cruel than the Technique's creators possibly imagined: Not only is Alex drained of violence, but also of his love of fabulous music. Maybe Beethoven heaves a sigh of relief, but us the viewer is oddly starting to feel sorry for Alex. He may be unable to commit violent acts, but he is also unable to choose whether he wants to or not.

Stanley Kubrick launches on these themes perfectly as only he can. Other filmmakers would probably none too subtly through these into the viewer's face, but not Kubrick. Like many of his other films, he allows to slowly tear apart the film throughout multiple viewings and even let us interpret the film's views ourselves without him interfering. He just sits, stroking his beard and thinking "yes, that seems about right. What else do you have to say regarding the film?" Malcolm McDowell's performance also brings us into Alex's world, carefully pronouncing each word that Burgess created for his book so as not to make any mistake. Each subsequent viewing, we learn a new meaning for "nadsat" and see that it is more than just the way Alex communicates, but also a part of his rebellion against the world he tolerates so much of. Stanley Kubrick not only created a masterpiece worthy of plenty of conversation, but also a look at our world currently operates and ways we can resolve these problems without the need of brainwashing techniques.

For this new edition of A Clockwork Orange, Warner Brothers has finally given the film the treatment it fully deserves on DVD, by affording it two sublime discs. The transfer is nice and sharp, with the images looking almost perfect. Meanwhile, the audio is also give a nice boost, particularly in the music-filled scenes, where Beethoven's music is even more clear than before, as are the dialogue between characters and sound effects. On the first disc, in addition to the fast-paced, almost seizure inducing theatrical trailer, is an audio commentary with Malcolm McDowell and film historian Nick Redman. McDowell is always fascinating to listen to and he provides an extremely informative chat on the film with Redman acting as a very good moderator. The second disc begins with a Channel 4 documentary on the controversy surrounding the film's release, with plenty of attention given towards the reaction in England, Kubrick's home for many years. While most of the information provided may not be new to fans who have already read plenty on the reaction towards the film, but they're still some interesting comments in the show to make it a very worthwhile watch.

A second documentary on A Clockwork Orange is provided regarding the film's influence on filmmakers, particularly people like Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack and George Lucas. There are also some factoids on the shooting of the film and Kubrick himself. It's yet another great addition to the disc. Finally, the set concludes with a documentary called O Lucky Malcolm!, that looks at the career of the film's lead actor Malcolm McDowell. Running about an hour and a half, the film takes a bit of a look at Clockwork Orange, but it also gives plenty of substantial information regarding his other roles, particularly his frequent collaborations with Lindsay Anderson and his time-travel film Time After Time. While it may have been nice to see more regarding his roles in the 80's and 90's, it still provides plenty of interesting comments on McDowell, the most interesting coming from his family and even himself. This documentary ends the disc very well.

A Clockwork Orange stands as one of Stanley Kubrick's masterpieces and Warner's new two-disc set provides enough good new material and a wonderful new transfer to make it a worthwhile purchase for fans of the film. This disc comes highly recommended.

Note: The film can also be purchased with the new Stanley Kubrick Directors Series box-set, which also has two-disc editions of 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, as well as singles discs of Full Metal Jacket and the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. If you're a Kubrick fan, the box-set is definitely worth getting, especially for its bargain price of about 60 to 80 dollars.

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