A Clockwork Orange is almost impossible to think about for me. As a kid growing up, I read the novel, I had the posters on the wall, I listened to the soundtrack and I wondered what the hell the film would actually be like. There was even a theatrical version, with music by the Edge and Phil Daniels, I think. Unless I drank too much moloko plus. There was a language as well. In the end I saw it probably when I was a bout sixteen, seventeen and the VHS copy was wobbly and distorted, with Dutch subtitles. The opening title sequence seemed to drip from the screen, the colours were so garish and the funeral march threatened to blow the speakers of the television. My first surprise was that all the stuff the film was famous for happens within the first few minutes. The droogs, Singing in the Rain, the bowler hats, the rape, the violence and what not, is all done and dusted after about the first half hour. The rest of the film seemed to be something else altogether and there were many long scenes of people talking in rooms, quite a few speeches, but still held together by Malcolm McDowell's constant and ingratiating voice over.
'Was it good?' was not even a question. Having seen it was a boast. Tony Parsons would almost ruin it by making a documentary about the film and dressing up as droog himself and generally acting like a git, or, more accurately, like Tony Parsons.
Watching it now on Blu-Ray, in immaculate high definition, the soundtrack still booming out, I should be able to soberly reassess the film and perhaps boldly declare it over-rated. But I can't. I am watching a different film though. That much I have to say. Kubrick's films always tend to hit their genres at an awkward angle and it is precisely this awkward angle that makes them so difficult to forget and at the same time to wholeheartedly love. The Shining is a horror movie which frankly is simply not scary enough, but it is so interesting in so many other ways that we can forgive it. Likewise, A Clockwork Orange is a comedy, a bleak satire in the same mould as Dr Strangelove but is just not quite as funny as it should be. Some of the humour is almost cringe-worthy (e.g. Mr Deltoid drinking from the false teeth water glass), some of it jars with the violence (e.g. the cat lady's murder, which I feel we are prompted to find as grimly funny as Col. Kong's last bronco ride). The prison officer's shouting is great but it feels like something from Porridge albeit the TV series would come later, in 1974.
The final joke is that of putting Alex back on the streets, once more uncured as it were. The slippery evasiveness of the politician feeding Alex his eggs is a beautifully funny and restrained scene. The comedy,however, is very much at the expense of a society which is fundamentally divided and hypocritical. There is a nihilism here that is uncomfortable even as it is compelling. In a way, it is a pity that the film has to some extent been reduced to the success of its costumes and design.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.