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First Time Seen On The Big Screen – A Clockwork Orange

I’ve said many times how much I enjoy the opportunities to see older films on the big screen. I don’t know if other cinema chains have similar seasons but The Light has quite a few. Some are anniversary screenings, some are part of director seasons, others are, seemingly, put on just because someone fancies seeing them. Anyway, one of the things that’s on at the moment is a retrospective titled Through The Lens: Stanley Kubrick. This includes Dr Strangelove, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange.

This gave me a chance to make up for the circumstances that prevented me seeing A Clockwork Orange on the big screen when it first came out. Over here, it came out in 1972 when I was the tender age of fourteen. A Clockwork Orange was passed uncut by the censors but they had given it an ‘X’ certificate which meant you had to be eighteen years old and I wasn’t quite cutting it back then. Still, I was sure that it wouldn’t be long before I looked passable and I could get in without too much aggravation

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Viddy Well, Little Brother. Viddy Well

But then the unthinkable happened…the film was withdrawn. Not by the British Board of Film Censors, they were happy with their previous decision. It was actually withdrawn by none other than Stanley Kubrick himself. Following the release, there was a spate of crimes by teenage boys which, when they came to trial, were blamed on A Clockwork Orange. There was a manslaughter, a murder, and a gang rape which claimed to have been carried out due to the influence of the film.   It got to the stage where Christiane Kubrick, the director’s wife, said that the family received threats and had protesters outside their home.

So it’s understandable that the Kubrick’s decided that British audiences weren’t capable of handling the issues raised. To be honest though, I don’t think it was so much a case of the cinema going public being too immature. I think it was more a question of some lawyers spotting a workable excuse for getting their young clients off the hook. Roger Gray, a defence lawyer , said  in court that “the link between this crime and sensational literature, particularly A Clockwork Orange, is established beyond reasonable doubt”. However, Mr Gray seemed to let slide that his 16 year old client shouldn’t have seen the film in the first place.

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It Was Only A Slight Tolchock

And it was a circulation boosting attempt by the press that linked the film to the gang rape. We might not have had the internet and social media back then, but the less salubrious elements of the press were not above exercising more than a modicum of hyperbole in order to get an attention grabbing, sensationalist headline that they hoped would sell a few more copies. To be honest, the majority still aren’t. In fact, one of the highest selling papers, the Daily Mail, is considered to be so unreliable and untrustworthy that it is barred from being used as a source for Wikipedia due to its reputation for poor fact checking, sensationalism, and flat-out fabrication.

But when you have baying crowds at your front door and threats arriving through the post it is no wonder that you decide to pull your work from the cinema. The fact that the vast majority of the protesters probably hadn’t seen the film and most likely had never read the book was irrelevant. Kubrick asked Warner Bros to withdraw the film from British release and they did so. He knew that his film wasn’t capable of making people commit crimes; he said “To attribute powerful suggestive qualities to a film is at odds with the scientifically accepted view that, even after deep hypnosis in a posthypnotic state, people cannot be made to do things which are at odds with their natures.”

I Had Something Of A Pain In The Gulliver

So, I was too young when it came out, and it had been withdrawn when I was old enough! And Kubrick didn’t relent. In 1993, the Scala Cinema Club went into receivership after losing a court case brought about after an unauthorised screening of the film. A Clockwork Orange wasn’t theatrically re-released until  after Stanley Kubrick died in 1999. It became available on VHS and DVD…yes, that long ago! It finally got broadcast on 4th July 2001 when it was screened on Sky TV’s Sky Box Office in its uncut format. And it was today (Thursday 30/05/2024) that I actually got to see it on the big screen.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a big audience. Probably because it was an 11:00 screening and had already been shown twice of an evening when the normal people go to the cinema! Another factor of daytime cinema going is that the audience demographic tends towards the retired age group. Those that have a reasonable pension and plenty if time to kill.  Another similarity was that we were all there to see a Stanley Kubrick film, one that we had probably seen before but not on a big screen. I chatted with a couple of the audience and we had similar experiences of A Clockwork Orange 

Appy-Polly-Loggies…I Was Not Awakened When I Gave Orders For Wakening

The common themes were “I was too young to see it when it came out and it had been withdrawn by the time I was old enough”, “Oh, I’ve seen it on VHS twenty years ago but never on the big screen”, and “It’s still quite a harrowing watch”. So, what was it like after all these years. Like my companions, I had seen it before so there was little in the way of shock value. The violence on display is relatively modest. It tended to be more along the lines of brawling rather than shooting. This wasn’t anything like the John Wick or Die Hard. I don’t recall seeing a firearm let alone seeing one fired. It seems that Hollywood has led the way in making violence and the concomitant blood and gore acceptable. 

Shooting, fights, and assorted mayhem are all acceptable in mainstream entertainment but heaven forfend that you should see a nipple! And the other big difference between then and now…pubic hair! Growing up as I was at the time A Clockwork Orange was being made, I remember that the “gentleman’s literature” available all featured women with full, luxuriant, growths of hair on and around their genitalia. Over the years fashions have changed and now it seems that the preference is for a pre-pubescent look. It may be a sign of my age but I prefer the natural look which was the norm during my adolescence.

Can Ye Spare Some Cutter, Me Brothers?

One of the things that I enjoy about seeing older films is spotting familiar faces in early roles. Steven Berkoff was so young that I didn’t recognise him as one of the police officers interrogating Alex. More recognisable, mainly because of their huge builds, was Dave Prowse and Pat Roach. Dave Prowse was best known as the physical embodiment of Darth Vader and the Green Cross Code Man. Pat Roach was best known over here as “Bomber” Busbridge in the series Auf Wiedersehen, Pet but he also appeared in all three of the original Indiana Jones films; he is the mountain of a man who has a fist fight with Indie under a slowly turning aeroplane in Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

Being denied the opportunity to see A Clockwork Orange I turned to the only available alternative; Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novella of the same name. Just as the film is narrated by Alex (Malcolm McDowell), so is the book. The thing is that the book is written almost exclusively in Nadsat, the youth slang invented by Burgess which is based on Russian and Cockney. The edition I had came with a glossary at the back so there was a fair amount of flicking back and forth. Obviously you can’t do that with a film so it was cut back and only used when context made the meaning obvious. So…is it dated? Yes. Is it unsettling? It should be. Is it worth seeing an the big screen if you get the chance? Most definitely!

Film Grade: A+

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