“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of Hell.”

— Edgar Allan Poe

Ask 20 people around town about Stanley Kubrick’s fabled cult classic “A Clockwork Orange” and you will catch 20 different answers. From all, you will get a variety of adjectives: gorgeous, magical, masterpiece, scary, awful, violent, brilliant, terrible, confusing. And it is, at any point in the film, all of those.

“A Clockwork Orange,” taken from Anthony Burgess’s best selling novel, bubbles up again after 40 years at the Maine International Film Festival. “Clockwork” is available on a very nice DVD, but that would be like watching “Lawrence of Arabia” on your iPad. Resist it.

“Clockwork,” a Kubrickian candy box of surprises, has something for everyone, something to love, something to hate, to offend, to disgust, shock, admire and respect. Those who genuflect at the mention of Stanley Kubrick will be happy to know that his shock and awe masterpiece looks better than ever, and framed against today’s headlines, as timely as the budget crisis. Kubrick’s mean streets actually pale in comparison to some of our urban landscapes.

“Clockwork” tells the story of Alex DeLarge, a violent teenage sociopath who can charm and delight, torture, maim and murder all in one evening. He is, as writer Clifford Odets once said of a character, “a cookie full of arsenic.” Of all of Mr. McDowell’s fine roles, Alex DeLarge may well be inscribed, in parentheses, on his tomb stone.

Alex lives with Mum (a wonderful Sheila Raynor in magenta wig) and Dad (the ubiquitous Philip Stone) in an ultra modern apartment. He plays hooky from school to parade around town in fancy Carnaby Street fashions, and spends his evenings with his droogs in a local milk bar. Here, in one of the most comically awesome sets in the film, milk is dispensed from pornographic fountains and laced with a drug that sends the merry band into the night to do “a bit of the old ultra-violence,” to the tune of Ludwig Van Beethoven, Alex’s favorite composer.

The droogs, all costumed in black and white “combat” uniforms, bizarre makeup, cod pieces and bowler hats, converse to one another in a mixture of Shakespearian hip-hop and Rabelais rap.

“Clockwork,” as the saying goes, is not for the timid viewer. People of faith will gasp and hide their eyes, progressive women will rail against the depiction and treatment of women, but few will leave without being aware that they have seen a work of artistry, of film genius. “Clockwork,” even with its flaws, holds its place among Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey,” ” Dr.Strangelove,” “The Shining,” or the two brilliant war films, “Paths Of Glory” and “Full Metal Jacket.”

“Clockwork” is not “Singing In The Rain,” although it plays an ugly and violent part in the infamous “Singin’ In The Rain” rape scene, when McDowell, as Alex and his droog thugs invade a home, cripple the husband in a severe beating and rape his wife. The scene cuts before the actual rape, but the entire scene is numbing and frightening. In another scene, a woman, a collector of rare pornographic art that includes four plastic statues of Jesus strung together in a chorus kick line, is attacked in her home and beaten to death with her pride and joy, a huge ceramic penis.

Yet in this jungle of violence there are clusters of incredible scenes, color and design, marvelous writing, brilliant direction, classical music, and editing and memorable performances including Malcolm McDowell’s now iconic turn as Alex.

Of all the great performances in the film, especially McDowell’s, watch for this one. Near the end of the film, Kubrick hands British classical actor, Patrick Magee, who plays the rape victim’s writer husband, an actor’s dream scene.

A few years on when Alex, escaping from a beating by his old chums, accidentally stumbles back into the house, he comes face to face with his former victim who is now in a wheelchair after that terrible assault. The writer recognizes his attacker, but says nothing. He lets him have a bath and full meal with a bottle of wine. In this scene, the great Magee, tormented and mentally shattered by the death of his wife, gives the most delicious comic performance of his life. Slumping in a bathrobe, eyes glinting madly with revenge, he watches his unsuspecting victim gobble spaghetti. Slowly, Magee bubbles and boils to a head and uncoiling like a cobra with eyes ablaze, he comes fully uncorked and evokes all the Shakespearean madness of a lifetime. This one scene is a masterclass of film acting.

“Clockwork Orange” is one of those iconic films that will live on in the film libraries of universities and the DVD racks of film student and hopefully at film festivals such as ours.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.


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