The Stanley Kubrick collection has been digitally re-mastered again and each of his films have been re-released as two-disc sets with commentaries and documentaries. I purchased the new edition of A Clockwork Orange (1971) the other day and curled up on the leather couch with my 55” television and surround sound and escaped into pure cinema bliss. Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel is one of my top ten films of all time. I have owned it in virtually every video format since the early 1980s… the old CED video disc (it was played with a needle)… on VHS tape…on laser disc (with the tiniest letterbox bars – this transfer was supposedly approved by Kubrick)… and three times on DVD. The first time it wasn’t a very good transfer of the film, the second time it was re-mastered in stereo for the first time (and the slightly wider letterbox was supposedly ALSO approved by Kubrick) and now a third DVD with even better surround sound and it’s finally letterboxed to its true screen ratio.
This is a film that brings back many memories and reminds me why I love cinema as an artform. I first saw it when I was a freshman in high school, standing on my toes at the ticket counter to look older so that I could get into this R-rated – formerly X-rated – film. I should note that I wasn’t a typical teen-ager who was just trying to see a “dirty movie.” I had read the book and the film just blew me away. To this day, it is still my vote for the best adaptation of literature (as opposed to a pulp novel) to ever hit the screen. Almost tying for this award is the film of To Kill A Mockingbird. I have lost track of how many times I have seen this film since 1973, but it has to be over 30 times. Whenever it played at a movie theater I went to see it. I saw it again in one of my college film classes and wrote my term thesis on one sequence which was studied and analyzed shot by shot on a Moviola in my professor’s office. (There was no such thing as home video in 1978). And so this film is very special to me.
A Clockwork Orange explores the theme of free will and how it relates to the rights of the individual vs. the State. Malcom MacDowell plays Alex, a charismatic young hoodlum whose interests include rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. When he is sent to prison, he is chosen as a subject in an experiment to forcibly rehabilitate hardened criminals into model citizens. This is done using classic Pavlovian techniques in which he is shot up with drugs that will induce panic attacks and make him feel deathly sick while he is forced to watch ultra-violent films. The desire to act violently induces the sickness. Alex can become a model citizen but at the cost of his free will. The question that A Clockwork Orange poses is this: Who is worse, the sociopathic and remorseless Alex or the government that shows no respect for human rights? It is a scary film, and its theme is no less relevant now than it was almost forty years ago. On a pure cinematic level, A Clockwork Orange attacks your senses on a visceral level and it doesn’t lose its punch after all these years. And no one – NO ONE – uses classical music in a film as brilliantly as Stanley Kubrick.
I am not going to write a full length analysis of the film. I am just thrilled to see a classic film like this getting the DVD treatment that it deserves. It drives me crazy when I see garbage like the Hostel movies getting multi-disc special editions while classics often hit the DVD shelves as “bare bones” editions with no restoration done to the film at all. The first Kubrick DVDs were all rushed out in shoddy editions. The new discs are a marvel. For anyone who is interested, the new 2001: A Space Odyssey double disc also looks stunning, and the new disc of Eyes Wide Shut finally eliminates those idiotic digital hooded figures that were inserted into the orgy sequence so that we can finally see it the way it was meant to be seen and the way that everyone in Europe has seen it since 1998.
Watching a restored print of a classic reminds me of why I fell in love with cinema in my college days during my film classes. Watching this one made me feel like I was 20 again.