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A Clockwork Orange: Anniversary Edition

You can't look away from the film or its myriad extras

Rod Lott June 8th, 2011

When a good friend first introduced me to Stanley Kubrick's 1971 masterpiece, "A Clockwork Orange," via VHS tape in 1988, I was really bothered by it.


When I watched it again just a couple weeks later, I was still really bothered about it. As disturbing as it was then, it's as disturbing today. Yet there's no denying its brilliance.

While it's by no means among my favorite of Kubrick's films — "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Dr. Strangelove" and "The Shining," for the record — it's the one that can expose your nerves raw and poke at them unlike any other.

To celebrate its four decades of controversy, censorship and cinematic immortality, Warner Home Video has released "Clockwork" on a 40th-anniversary Blu-ray, so it can poke at your nerves in high-def. Like the scene of its protagonist with his eyes clipped open, you can't look away.

Malcolm McDowell gave arguably his finest performance as Alex DeLarge, gang leader of the bowler-wearing, milk-drinking, raping-and-murdering droogs. He was so good at it, it typecast him. If only everyone could delve into this double-disc set’s special features, they would be able to see McDowell — not to mention the film itself — in a new light.

Three terrific — at times even spellbinding — documentaries are included: “Turning Like Clockwork,” “Still Tickin’: The Return of ‘Clockwork Orange’” and “Great Bolshy Yarblockos!: Making ‘A Clockwork Orange.’” All dig deep into the movie’s history, from how Anthony Burgess’ novel made its way into Kubrick’s hands (only to initially scoff at the idea of an adaptation, put off by the droogs’ invented vernacular), to why Kubrick removed the final product from circulation in Great Britain, to the impact it enjoys today.

Like a virtual film school, scenes are discussed and dissected by an impressive lineup of informed talents and critics, with some overlap among the trio. I’m not sure why the three weren’t assembled into one long, feature-length piece; it’s not as if the contents would bore “Clockwork” enthusiasts. Not by a long shot.

Fans of McDowell in particular will be drawn to two features dedicated to the actor: one in which he discusses his experience and involvement with “Clockwork,” and the other being “O Lucky Malcolm!,” a feature-length documentary on his work and life (Mr. McDowell, you’ve got a lovely daughter), directed by Jan Harlan, Kubrick’s brother-in-law. With the actor praising Lindsey Anderson, it makes a nice companion piece — and a superior one — to the recent DVD release of “Never Apologize.”

Finally, even those who aren’t “Clockwork” worshippers, yet kneel at the altar of its helmer may wish to purchase the set simply for its inclusion of Harlan’s warts-and-all biodoc, “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures.” Running at nearly two and a half hours, it’s a chronological look at his filmography, movie by movie, with his personal life woven through. While I wish it would’ve addressed more of the elongated development of “Eyes Wide Shut,” Kubrick’s deflated swan song, it’s a fascinating look at an extraordinary career. —Rod Lott

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06.09.2011 at 12:38 Reply

DeLarge is an odd character.  He's a villian I think many can relate to, and perhaps that's why the film is so disturbing.  As viewers we do not like to acknowledge that there is a part of ourselves that is violent.  Delarge roams freely doing harm for quite a while, but once he's drugged and brainwashed the viewer who hated him the whole time finds themselves relating to him.  The fact is that we are nutered by societies rules and morals, and seeing it in action on the screen becomes a parody of our own lives.  Where we are not truely free, DeLarge was free before he was converted into a normal.  It's at that point we become wholy aware of how weak we are when DeLarge is robbed of the ability to stand up for himself.  As wrong as it sounds, the viewer might view him as almost a God, despite the horrific things perpetuated by his hand and his possie.

Honestly, there is more going on in Clockwork, but I am too disturbed to have a seond go at it.

One thing is for sure, McDowell has had his career formed by this bad guy roll.  And time and again he has proved himself worthy of that stereotype.  From Caligula to Blue Thunder to the TV show Heroes, he continually plays villans that you lothe but secretly respect, or perhaps admire.  With every roll he seems more duplicitious and more compelling.  He's an excellent actor, and I can't help but wonder what might have become of his career without Clockwork as a launchpad.