MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Classic and Blu-ray. A Clockwork Orange

 “A Clockwork Orange” (Blu-ray) (Two discs) (Four Stars)

U.S.-U.K.: Stanley Kubrick, 1971 (Warner Home Video)


When I was in college in the 1960s, Stanley Kubrick was one of my cinematic heroes. I thought  his movies were amazing: smart, funny, exciting, meaningful, beautifully crafted, brilliant, the best. I loved them. Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001:A Space Odyssey. Who could match them? Among his contemporaries, who could match him?

2.  still think Kubrick was great, but now he seems more of a semi-tragic hero: someone who lost his way and who, in the end, didn’t quite fulfill his destiny, someone who –like Orson Welles, the director to whom, as a young man, Kubrick was repeatedly compared — didn’t make all the movies he should have made, got pushed to the side by executives without a fifth of his talent or ambition or (what’s the word they always used for him?), his genius. OR, and this may be worse, someone who got frightened and went into a kind of strange hiding and seclusion and gave up the fight, on his own.

I don’t know, none of us know, why Kubrick, one of the most munificently talented and widely admired filmmakers ever to come out of America (the Bronx, New York, son of a doctor, one time chess hustler in Washington Square, teen prodigy photographer for Look Magazine, New York indie filmmaker at 22), retreated to that British manorial estate in the countryside which he rarely left, never to ride on a plane, never to cross the ocean, making fewer and fewer and fewer films.

From 1972 until the last year of his life, 1999, Kubrick directed only four pictures: the splendidly appointed  William Thackeray adaptation Barry Lyndon (1975), the Stephen King shocker The Shining (1980), the Vietnam War movie Full Metal Jacket (1987) and the erotic nightmare Eyes Wide Shut (1999). And though there are things I love about all those films — and I’d call all of them classics, or minor classics, and rank all of them at or near the top of the list in the years they were released — none of them except Barry Lyndon really feels like first-rate Kubrick.

They just aren’t as exciting, as thought-provoking, as wildly funny and mind-bendingly gorgeous as the movies that made us love him — The Killing, Paths of Glory, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

And also A Clockwork Orange, which he released in 1971, the year before the long drier spell of his later career seemed to start. Based on a brilliant British novel by a brilliant British novelist, Anthony Burgess, with a brilliant British cast (headed by Malcolm McDowell, at his peak, and including Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri, Miriam Karlin, Michael Bates, Aubrey Morris and Steven Berkoff) and brilliant British technical people (cinematographer John Alcott and production designer John Barry), it’s a movie that throbs and glows with art and technique and intellect. It exemplifies what was different about Kubrick, or, for that matter, Orson Welles. Brilliance, of course.

Both of them were labeled geniuses at relatively young ages: Welles in his early 20s for his stage and radio work, and at 25 for his movie masterpiece Citizen Kane, Kubrick at 26 for his great low budget film noir The Killing. Both of them had the critics solidly behind them at first, and lost them later. And both seemed a cultural cut above even most of the great American moviemakers, who often tended to disguise their intellects.

Kubrick and Welles were moviemakers who were unashamedly and undisguised intellectual. They read great books, were visual artists (Kubrick a photographer, Welles a painter), listened to and loved classical music, and filmed classic or intelligent contemporary literature, faithfully. Geniuses they probably were, as well as filmmakers who truly tried to elevate the standards of movies and their audiences. And both of them also made very few films in their last decades of life. Kubrick, of course, had a much better time of it than Welles, and maybe it isn’t even fair to compare them. Welles was eviscerated by the system, Kubrick merely, seemingly, nudged aside. In the end, we all come from the same clay and return to the same dust, however smart or brilliant or gifted we are — as they both knew well.


A Clockwork Orange was one of the instant classic ‘60s books, an ingeniously conceived, mind-bendingly well-executed science fiction tale of juvenile delinquency in a nightmare future, and it was written by Burgess in a burst of creativity brought on by his fear that he was dying of a brain tumor (he wasn’t, as it happens) and that he had to make a lot of money fast to take care of his wife after he died (which he didn‘t, until decades later.) Burgess set his 1963 novel (which takes its title from a British pub slang phrase “as queer as a clockwork orange”: “queer” meaning peculiar), in the near future when Russian culture dominates British culture as America’s once did. And Burgess, a gifted linguist, invented a whole new slang language for his book, based on Russian derived words like “bolshy” (good) and “droogs” (mates). There were other words coined by Burgess as well, including his novel‘s permanent gift to the dictionary-makers, “ultra-violence.”

Ultra-violence is what the young Beethoven-loving thug Alex (McDowell) and his droogs on the world around them as they drink drug-laced milk at the Korova Milk Bar and then swagger outside to the Russkyized London, bathed in Kubrick’s and Alcott’s stunning minimalist lighting:, four thugs snappily dressed in white uniforms, white cod-pieces, black derbies and carrying lethal looking canes — which they use to bash a poor, howling old drunken tramp (Paul Farrell) sleeping in the gutter;to thrash a rival gang after interrupting them in an abandoned theater in mid-rape;to smash and cripple a gentle, humanistic novelist (called Mr. Alexander, played by Patrick Magee, the de Sade of “Marat/Sade,” and based on Burgess himself) and his wife (Adrienne Corri, who played the older sister of Jean Renoir’s The River) while invading their home during a burglary;and finally (Alex the lone attacker this time) to trash a wealthy erotic artist, called the Catlady (Miriam Karlin), whom Alex bashes, and kills, with one of her erotic sculptures — a huge white penis that rocks.

Alex is only 15 in the novel, but already a committed criminal,  a passionate admirer of the magnificent German composer he calls “Ludwig Van,” and of Ludwig’s masterpiece the Ode to Joy of the Ninth “Choral” Symphony. Alex seems to be in his late teens or early 20s in the movie, and McDowell was 28 when the film came out. But, like James Dean‘s Jim Stark (for Nicholas Ray), McDowell’s Alex is an ultimate youth rebel, ultimately rebelling, without a cause. (Except, in Alex’s case, pure appetite.)

The rest of Clockwork Orange is a very dark satire, a horror show, and a cautionary tale twisting around age-old philosophical debates on morality and free will. Can Alex — who is caught by police, convicted of murder, sentenced to a long prison term and is so desperate to escape, he volunteers for a special program designed to reprogram his brain against ultra-violence — be successfully cured?

Can he make love not war, instead of love and war? The re-program forces him to nausea as it also forces him to watch incessant film images of sex and violence, insuring that he will feel the same overpowering sickness outside in real life — where, in dreadful symmetry, he meets all the people still alive, whom he hurt on those two nights. The ending of A Clockwork Orange, Alex’s redemption (?), is one of the great ironic climaxes in all British literature: I was cured, all right.


Yet, interestingly, that famous ending wasn‘t the one that Burgess intended. The publishers sliced off the chapter he actually wrote to close A Clockwork Orange: Chapter 7 of Part Three — and ended the book with Chapter 6. (This disrupts the careful symmetry Burgess planned; he originally wrote Clockwork Orange in three parts, of seven chapters each.) I won’t tell you what happens in the real last Chapter 7, if you don’t know already, but it’s a wonderful bolshy ending, and you should buy, if you haven’t already, the W. W. Norton & Company paperback of “A Clockwork Orange,” which has the complete text of the author’s cut, the real last chapter (on pages 180-192) and Burgess’s introduction and explanation.


You should also buy at least one DVD of the movie Clockwork Orange (this one will do), or the Warners’ Kubrick DVD box set of his movies to Eyes Wide Shut. Tragic hero or not, these are still wonderful, bolshy shows. I still love them all.

A Clockwork Orange indeed might seem to be the ancestor of dystopian science fiction nightmare epics like Blade Runner, The Matrix, Total Recall, and more recently Inception and Source Code. But in one important respect, it has little in common with any of them. Those were all big or huge productions with elaborate designs, whose ultra-violence was matched by ultra-budgets. A Clockwork Orange (as you‘ll learn from this disc’s excellent commentary) had only one constructed set, the Korova Milk bar. It was shot for a relatively moderate budget mostly on real ‘70s London locations that the designers redressed, and Kubrick made it that way partly to demonstrate that he could handle smaller budgets than 2001: A Space Odyssey, whose vast majestic celestial splendors had seemed to the cost-conscious to run away from him.

Of course, a masterpiece is always a bargain. But Clockwork Orange, in addition, sparked a venomous debate over its ultra-violence, a debate of such ultra-virulence that the movie became what a Kubrick film had never previously been: unhip and uncool to a part of the intellectual, leftist, film-loving and college audiences — mostly the Marxist/structuralist wing. (Jean-Luc Godard called Clockwork Orange “a complete fascist film,” a misjudgment I suppose we can blame squarely on some of Godard‘s know-it-all younger then-companions). That controversy may also have inspired Kubrick to the strange measure of withdrawing the film and keeping it unseen in Britain for decades. (Was he frightened? Was he remorseful?)

All this matters little now. A Clockwork Orange, book or movie, is an undoubted classic: both a remarkable novel and an unforgettable movie of society, psychology, morality and ideas. It is not a fascist film but an obviously anti-fascist one. Bollocks, Jean-Luc.


Kubrick died in 1999, after making his four last films and handing over another project, the science fiction odyssey A. I: Artificial Intelligence, to Steven Spielberg, who made a masterwork out of it, released in 2001. Malcolm McDowell is long past any age of juvenile delinquency, but he remains one of the sharpest actors and saltiest raconteurs around, and he did the excellent commentary on this DVD. (Kubrick, by the way, called him “Malc” and said he couldn’t have made the movie without him.)

Anthony Burgess died in 1993, three decades after publishing the book that he intended to pay for his wife’s needs in widowhood. One film project that he became involved in afterwards (besides two well-known TV series about Jesus and Moses), was the novel “Napoleon Symphony,” dedicated “to Stanley K,“ and intended to help re-spark fellow music-lover Kubrick’s long-frustrated dream project” an epic period film about Napoleon starring Jack Nicholson. I would have loved to have seen that film, but I guess the budget was too steep. Maybe that was the tragedy.


As for Clockwork Orange, and great bolshy horrorshow bollocks, and the Korova milk bar, and little Alex’s grazhny vonny domain: that’s a world we never came to see in real life (thankfully) — though like some other film critics, I sometimes feel almost as if I’ve become a kind of Alex, punished but without crime, strapped to my seat, picks wedged under my eyelids, forced to watch senseless sex and violence over and over again, but without the nausea drug. That’s just as nightmare, though. I can still always find Alex’s world wedged between the pages of my copy of Burgess’ novel. (Once upon a time, you couldn’t walk into a house in my college town without seeing a paperback copy of it somewhere.) We can also find it still there, queer as a clockwork orange, in the brilliant British design and technique, the incredible acting, the gorgeous, coruscating music and profound ideas and imagery of Stanley Kubrick‘s great movie, A Clockwork Orange. Warning us.

“ A terrible grazhny vonny world, really, O my brothers. And so farewell from your little droog. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lip music brrrrrr. And they can kiss my sharries. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal.”

Anthony Burgess‘s original last seven sentences (Chapter 7, Part Three) of A Clockwork Orange


  Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (U.K.: Jan Harlan, 2001) Three Stars. Good, sympathetic bio documentary of Kubrick, made by his brother-in-law.

 O Lucky Malcolm! (U.K.: Jan Harlan, 2006) Three Stars. Harlan’s comradely documentary look at Malcolm McDowell.

Extras: Commentary by Malcolm McDowell and Nick Redman; Channel Four documentary “Still Tickin: the Return of A Clockwork Orange“; Featurettes; Trailer.

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Classic and Blu-ray. A Clockwork Orange”

  1. Hank Graham says:



    Have you noticed how much the unpublished ending chapter of “Clockwork Orange” resembles the end of “Trainspotting,” both book and film?

    In both, the anti-hero has a moment of satori in which he realizes that he’ll become a part of the status quo, one of the supporters of everything he was so happily kicking down.


awesome stuff. OK I would like to contribute as well by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to modify. check it out at All custom premade files, many of them totally free to get. Also, check out Dow on: Wilmington on DVDs: How to Train Your Dragon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Darjeeling Limited, The Films of Nikita Mikhalkov, The Hangover, The Human Centipede and more ...

cool post. OK I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to customize. check it out at All custom templates, many of them dirt cheap or free to get. Also, check out Downlo on: Wilmington on Movies: I'm Still Here, Soul Kitchen and Bran Nue Dae

awesome post. Now I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some beautiful and easy to modify. take a look at All custom premade files, many of them free to get. Also, check out DownloadSoho.c on: MW on Movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Paranormal Activity 2, and CIFF Wrap-Up

Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Rory on: Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Andrew Coyle on: Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

tamzap on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Magnificent Seven, Date Night, Little Women, Chicago and more …

rdecker5 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Ivan's Childhood

Ray Pride on: Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon