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Interviewees | Notes | My Summary | My Review
|William Boyd||Author, Screenwriter and Director|
|Anthony Burgess||Author (1917-93)|
|Robin Duval||Director, British Board of Film Classification|
|Mary Harron||Director "American Psycho"|
|Tony Kaye||Director "American History X"|
|Mark Kermode||Writer and Critic|
|Sam Mendes||Director "American Beauty"|
|Blake Morrison||Writer and Poet|
|Camille Paglia||Writer and Critic|
|Ken Penry||Member of the 1971 BBFC viewing committee|
|William Sutcliffe||Author "The Love Hexagon"|
|Alexander Walker||Writer and Critic|
Directed by Paul Joyce
Runtime: 49 minutes
Premiered on BBC TV in 3/18/00 on the day before the film was released in theaters for the first time in 27 years.
Played again on BBC Channel 4 on 10/13/02 before ACO was played on regular TV for the first time.
A number of politicians were approached to comment on issues raised by the re-release of ACO: Sir Edward Heath declined to appear, Jack Straw declined to appear, Ann Widdecombe agreed to appear, but refused to watch ACO.
The documentary opens on a glass of milk and
then goes to a clip from the film where the woman in the Korova
sings and Alex smashes Dim with his cane. Sam Mendes describes how the droogs
drink milk, how they look, how some of the images are iconic and transcend
time. He also says Reservoir Dogs ripped off the look of the droogs walking,
theirs were in black and the Magnificent Seven like how the landscape is barren, but sexy.
Mary Harron says it was prophetic of punk and the things punk fed off like anarchy. The film is stylistic and futuristic, but it is Themesmead. The director says they just filmed there and shows modern day shots of the places where they filmed the droogs by the water and how dirty it is.
Mark Kermode sits outside in Themesmead describing first seeing the book. A kid in school was reading it on the bus for a project. Everyone knew it was subversive and he remembers the cartoon cover of the face, the hat and the clockwork eye. He didn't know anything about it except it was forbidden.
William Sutcliffe says how they gave you "A Catcher in the Rye" to read in school, but what you really wanted to read was ACO. It was a book you never would get to read in school
Alexander Walker talks about Burgess writing the book and how it was a pouring out of him to get over the attack on his first wife. William Boyd also talks about how the violence on his wife affected him. Alexander Walker says it was written in a state of catharsis. Blake Morrison says he wrote the book because he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He wrote five books in a year after the diagnosis. It feels like it was done fast.
Anthony Burgess explains how the book was violent and was later made into a film by Kubrick. Then highlights from the ACO trailer are shown. William Boyd explains how Burgess didn't think too highly of the novel, but that it is an important work because of the language. A clip is shown of Dim saying yarbles to Alex. William Sutcliffe explains what yarbles means. William Boyd talks about how important the language was and how Burgess felt there wasn't enough of it in the film. Then the play the clip of Alex saying appy-polly-loggies.
Damien Hirst talks about not seeing the film when it first came out and how he really wanted to see it, especially because you weren't allowed to. Mark Kermode talks about his first time seeing it was in the early 80s. He went to someone's house when the first VCRs came out and they had a bad pirate copy of it with Japanese subtitles. He had the album and saw the stills and was finally going to get to see it. Even though the copy was so bad he realized it was still an extraordinary film. Blake Morrison explains how he went into his local video store and there was a sign on the counter that said "ACO Available Through us." They sent away to Paris to get it and it came in a brown wrapper and felt illegal to own it. Damien Hirst says it was a banned film that you had to see at someone's house and it was exciting when someone had it. Sam Mendes said he first saw it two years ago on video and hasn't seen it in the theater and was shocked at how many films had stolen from it. Mary Harron says how radical and disturbing the film was and couldn't believe how a major studio made it and it shows how liberal the 70s were.
Alexander Walker says the 60's were the age of sexual experimentation and liberation and the 70s were the decade of violence and spoke to the people who were apostles of violence. Mark Kermode says how there was panic about films then like The Exorcist. Walker talks about Ken Rusell's "The Devils" and the violence in that. Ken Penry says they had to cut "The Devils" because of the violence and also "Straw Dogs." Alexander Walker tells how "Straw Dogs" had violence and rape in it. Mark Kermode says that films were coming out that were challenging councils and the government and they got uppity about them. The censors then decided to let the films go as is. Ken Penry explains they knew Kubrick was a major director because of "2001" and they did not like cutting films of great merit. Robin Duval talks about John Trengham who was the censor in England up until right before ACO came out. He would talk to the directors and get the scripts in advance which hasn't been done since then. Ken Penry tells how most of the violence was in the first 30 minutes starting with the attack on the tramp, the rape in the cinema, the rape of Mrs. Alexander and the beating to death of the Catlady (clips are shown of each). The discussion wasn't that long and it was decided that it worked and they passed the film without cut.
Alexander Walker explains how the Home Secretary Reginauld Maudling was not a diplomatic man and during a newspaper interview said he wanted to see the film before it was released because he thought it might be dangerous. Ken Penry tells how Maudling came by to see the film. Walker says no sooner did Maudling make that demand, he regretted it, but he had to go through with it. Kubrick and WB realized they were being put on the spot. Penry tells how the board wasn't happy about having to show the film there because it would've looked like state censorship. The office manager took a copy of the film out of the board and snuck out the back while the press were waiting out front. He brought it to the admiralty where they screened it for Maudling and then took it right back.
Walker says it is very important to remember the state of England when the film first came out 30 years ago. Headlines from papers are shown. William Boyd talks about the 3-day week, mine strikes and how it was a tough time to live through. Walker said all the devils of the day were in the film and if they chased it off the screen it would also disappear from the streets. Clips of the turbulent time are shown to the William Tell Overture. Walker explains how some places banned the film and the new censor was Stephen Murphy and he was unsure, inexperienced and begin feeling the heat. Penry says how the violence of the time was being blamed on the film. Walker says the media were waiting for it, no doubt about it. They saw in ACO the opportunity to go to town. There was an unspoken conspiracy against the film. The clip of the tramp replying to "What's so stinking about it?" is shown.
Blake Morrison talks about how Burgess was constantly called to defend the film instead of Kubrick while privately having reservations about it. Anthony Burgess talks about how he became associated with the violence and that if some nuns were raped he would get a phone call from the press about how he felt about it, never Stanley because he kept away. Alexander Walker talks about how people who were affected by the film would show up at Kubrick's house. They were the original stalkers and they would come to his house demanding to speak with him. The Hertfordshire police told him it was a deadly combination and how maybe someday the droogs would show up at his doorstep. He considered it and decided to withdraw the film from being shown right up until his death. William Boyd thinks if that was true then why did he allow the film to be shown all over the world? You weren't able to buy it in the UK, but he bought it in New York, the censorship was only in Britain. The film played continuously in the West End upon its release for 15 straight months. Robin Duval says that the ban was unique, no other film had ever been banned in any way like it. Mark Kermode says that once Kubrick decided on banning it that there was no turning back. It's reputation just grew and it annoys him how some people thought he did it on purpose to increase the popularity. He thinks no matter how long Kubrick lived he never would've re-released it. Blake Morrison says Burgess wrote about a trial shortly before he died and had a change of heart about it and then felt that art could influence people.
A clip is shown of the droogs walking by the
water and Alex attacking Georgie. Walker talks about how Malcolm's
voice is the first thing that hits you and gets under your skin. William Boyd
talks about how first person narration in a novel can be unreliable and take you
in the wrong direction. In film it becomes intimate and brings you to the side
of the narrator. Mary Harron also agrees that the narration is a way of screwing
with the audience and making you attracted to the narrator. Sam Mendes says
Kubrick is careful about the pacing. He used narration as the basis and feels
it is Malcolm's best work in the film. Boyd was a big fan of if.... and
not necessarily Burgess or Kubrick. He was there to see Malcolm who he thought
was a great charismatic actor. Malcolm explains, "I'd just come of if....
with Lindsay Anderson and I was terrified in a way because I wasn't sure how far
I could go and was asking Lindsay and talking to him about this. And Lindsay
would say, 'Oh, Malcolm you'll be fine, you always worry about stuff.' Yes, I
know of course I'm neurotic about it. I said look would you mind looking
at the script. He said, 'Oh all right, of course.' and he did. 'I
don't understand much about this stuff and I don't know how he's gonna do
it...it's extraordinary really. Malcolm, there is a scene in if.... where you
come in to the gymnasium when you are going to be beaten by the whips and there
is a close-up of you opening the door...and that close-up is how you play
this.' They show the clip from if... when Mick opens the door and is
The clip of Alex walking around the record shop is shown. William Sutcliffe says there is something charming about Alex which Malcolm got right. He's a bad guy, but he is not hateful and he is ambiguous which makes him likable. Walker says Malcolm invests the character with demonic energy. Mendes says Alex is heroic because he is the only real character in the bleak landscape and that is hard to do. Malcolm explains, "Alex is a little bit of a charmer. He lives life to the fullest. He enjoys what he does. Now what he does you may not agree with, but at least he enjoys it. He doesn't go around like moping, he's out there robbing and having fun you know (laughs)". Mark Kermode says Alex is more clever than his parents, smarter than everyone around him and listens to classical music. His parents can't figure it out because when we see them at the kitchen table they are wondering what he does.
The clip of the droogs in the Durango is shown. Mendes says it is a memorable shot because it goes on and on and on - too long in fact, past the point of making sense...then it makes perfect sense. It enters your subconscious and you can't rid yourself of the images from the movie. The clip of the droogs tearing around Mr. Alexander's house is shown. He then talks about the wide shot of the rape and thinking it was cruel and dangerously on the edge of misogyny. Boyd says in the 70's that you couldn't show a gang rape without showing how horrible it is. To him it is awful because it is shown with an absence of feeling. Mendes says Kubrick wasn't happy with the rape scene until Malcolm started humming "Singin' in the Rain" and he is a clever bastard because there is no doubt that is what makes it disturbing. Malcolm explains, "He came over to me and said, 'Um, Malc can you dance?' I think we were fooling around, Warren and I, with these wonderful boots on, Marine boots and he just asked. And I said, sure why not? I had the cane and I just started doobi do da da da doobi da da do do (does the moves) Singin' in the rain (smack), just Singin' in the Rain boom! What a glorious feeling, I'm (foom) happy again. And he was like...that's it!"
Mendes says Alex searches for that area between your heart and your head, he creates a friction between the sexy and the violent and uses that throughout the movie. Tony Kaye says you came to feel Stanley in the film because he was the puppet master. Mendes says he challenges you to feel aroused, to feel sickened, to feel the cartoonish aspects. He puts his finger on your temple and finds your week spot. Camille Paglia says the music makes it seem so civilized and that you can't revert back to the animal, but think again. This is the mirror he holds up to you.
Then they play the 'Singin' in the Rain' clip. Walker talks about how the violence is not about gloating and you don't see the effects of it - it is abstract. Tony Kaye says the violence is over-the-top and not real or shocking. Damien Hirst says it is violence for no reason and that makes it harmless. It is a fantastic visual, like Alex cutting Mrs. Alexander's dress. Boyd says it doesn't show what the woman is going through as it is only shown from the male point of view. Mary Harron says there is something sexist and chauvinistic about it, but it perfectly shows male bonding. Paglia says it is like the frat parties that led to date rape in the 80s. When law and order break down, mob rules. Walker says in the hands of a gifted filmmaker it makes you compelled to look at it and it makes you feel energized. Paglia says it has a fun house element that caused a storm of abuse. Boyd wonders if it will be looked at as insensitive 30 years from now. Paglia says the fun element in the night time raids and the rapes is evident and that feminists can't accept it. They say rape is a violent act, not a sexual one and she says wake up. Mendes says it seems like a strange world where sex is either comic or violent and not healthy.
The clip of Alex meeting the Cat Lady is played. Walker talks about how he was on the set when they filmed the scene of Alex fighting the Cat Lady. He says it is cut so fast in the film and was much more disturbing then when he saw it take place.
The clip of Alex getting setup in the Ludovico chair is played. Alexander Walker
talks about how the film is about morality and that the state has become violent
which lessens the impact of the violence in the film. Anthony Burgess talks
about getting the idea for turning the thugs into Clockwork Oranges. William Boyd
explains about how the 21st chapter wasn't in the American version and how
Burgess's point was Alex does become good on his own. Mark Kermode says the
version he owned had the 21st chapter and how the film ends at the wrong point. Blake Morrison
says that the last chapter shows the growing out of the violence and Burgess
didn't like the film because of it.
The clip of the minister first meeting Alex is shown. William Boyd says we condemn the state because Alex becomes lobotomized and Burgess says people can become good on their own. Alexander Walker says the Chaplain is the one who complains about the treatment, but the minister says it works. He can hear the British politicians of the day in that voice and thinks the public will too. The interviewer tells him maybe that is why no politicians would agree to do the documentary and Walker agrees that would be a good reason.
Vintage newspaper headlines are shown. Robin Duval says that while people did blame their crimes on ACO, she doesn't think it will happen today. Blake Morrison says he copied things he saw when he was a kid and Burgess and Kubrick were both worried about copycat crimes because of the film. Camille Paglia doesn't believe art causes violence, but it causes paralysis, which is worse. Alexander Walker says there is no proof that movies cause violence. William Boyd says The Bible inspired more violence than anything else. Mary Harron says "Catcher in the Rye" is a favorite of assassins, but that doesn't mean it should be banned. Camille says the number of violent acts linked to the arts is miniscule compared to the number of people who view them, the seeds for violent behavior are sown before people react to a film. Mary says no one would've thought someone would try to kill the president from seeing "Taxi Driver", but some crazy person did. There is nothing you can do, you shouldn't censor yourself. Damien Hirst says ACO puts the responsibility on the viewer.
Clips from the trailer are shown. Robin Duval says it was only a matter of time before ACO was re-released because it was only Kubrick holding it back. Alexander Walker says ACO is relevant today almost like a fable, but he says Stanley told him that wasn't the case. Mark Kermode says it will do well because the first 30 minutes of the film are unmatched in cinema. Sam Mendes says it isn't as shocking today as it was then. Camille says it is a perfect time for the film to force the feminists to deal with human sexuality. Tony Kaye says it is a chance to see a real film by a real filmmaker and he hopes the reaction is very, very good. Robin Duval says it is the exact same film, nothing has been cut out from the original release. Malcolm says, "But of course Clockwork Orange stands on it's own. That's what it is - an extraordinary piece of work. I think everybody that had anything to do with it gave it their best and I think everything they had. I think Stanley was at his creative pinnacle."
Sam Mendes says it is an incredibly brave film that stands on its own and that the real question people should have is why can't they make films like it anymore. Camille thinks it captures a truth about the human soul and if ACO is rejected then people have sentimentalized and censored their own view of human life. Tony Kaye says it attracted so much attention and that when you strip all that away the film doesn't say that much. Mark Kermode says it is an exciting film and a brilliant dissection of violence - bottom line is it is and exciting film. Mary Harron says you have to sensationalize the violence to get away with it, but you are drawn in and excited by it which stills makes it dangerous today.
A clip of the fight with Billyboy's gang is shown. Sam Mendes says it doesn't burst with youth, as a film it is about young guys and he wants it to appeal to youth and he adds things to appeal to them. Blake Morrison says Burgess got caught up in the violence and the controversy when the film was released as did Kubrick. Neither of them could shake it even until they died.
The film ends with the large phallic sculpture floating in the water. The End.
This special was very interesting to me
because it gave me a look at something I had only read about. I had always known
about the ban, but it didn't matter to me since I live in the US. When I first
started the site in 1997 the number 1 email I would get went like this, "I
live in the UK, please send me a copy of ACO. I'll trade!" I got
100s of emails like this. I would tell them that my tape is NTSC and they most
likely couldn't watch it. I was able to make some trades with those who could
covert it to PAL. It was an epidemic. There was an entire generation who had
never seen the film. So when the ban was lifted I was quite relieved that no one
would ever need to ask me for a copy again. It's funny how people would talk
about getting bootleg copies and buying it like it was one of the raunchiest
pornos ever made.
Overall this special is hit and miss. Of course the highlight is that it features a new interview with Malcolm, but besides that - there is no one else directly involved with the film. The closest is Walker who was a friend of Kubricks' and was on the set for a short time. Otherwise I'm not very interested in seemingly random people that I don't know talking about the film. I much would've preferred people from Kubrick's family, people that worked on the film and any living actors in the film and more vintage interviews. I feel Tony Kaye adds nothing and is disturbing to look at, I have no idea why they picked him.
The best part at the time was to see present day shots of Thamesmead and how the area is nearly the same, except there is more garbage. The opening segment talks a lot about the novel which is OK, but the special is supposed to be about the return of the film, not the book. The book was never banned, it was always available, so it could never return. It's also crazy how much government was involved with the film so early one and how they wanted to see it before it was released. Nothing like that ever happens in the US. It would be a major scandal if the president had someone see a film before it came out because he was worried about it. Now no one cares and the most twisted and anti-American things come out often without a mention from the government.
There are also some of the usual errors which never go away because they are repeated in shows like this and then are made even harder to correct. Two people say Burgess' wife was raped when she was not, someone says Kubrick didn't know about the 21st chapter and that is why he didn't film it, which is false. He didn't use it because he didn't like it. He always liked his films to end ambiguously and the 21st chapter spells it out too much for him.
Malcolm doesn't say too much new and doesn't even appear until part two. The best part is when he reenacts the "Singin' in the Rain" bit and does some really devilish jabs and punches - classic stuff. When he talks about if.... they show a picture of O Lucky Man! which I thought was just sloppy. I also thought it was weird that the three directors they interview all did films that started with "American" in the title - some hidden significance?
All in all it is worth seeing and is something that needed to be made. It is like a time capsule of how it was when the film was being released in March 2000. For those who lived it in England this documentary probably offers you nothing you hadn't seen or heard before. It is of more interest to those of us who didn't.
This page © 2001-10 Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net