Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates, Warren Clarke, Adrienne Corri, Carl Duering, Michael Gover, Miriam Karlin, James Marcus
Anthony Burgess (novel), Stanley Kubrick
Being the adventures of a young man ... who couldn't resist pretty girls ... or a bit of the old ultra-violence ... went to jail, was re-conditioned ... and came out a different young man ... or was he?
Stomping, whomping, stealing, singing, tap-dancing, violating. Derby-topped teddy-boy hooligan Alex (Malcolm McDowell) has his own way of having a good time. He has it at the tragic expense of others. Alex's journey from amoral punk to brainwashed proper citizen forms the dynamic arc of Stanley Kubrick's future-shock vision of Anthony Burgess' novel. Unforgettable images, startling musical counterpoints, the fascinating language used by Alex and his pals - Kubrick shapes them into a shattering whole. Hugely controversial when first released, A Clockwork Orange won the New York Film Critics Best Picture and Director honors and earned four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. The power of its art is such that it still entices, shocks and holds us in its grasp.
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
German Dolby Digital 5.1
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1
Castilian Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 137 min.
Release Date: 5/31/2011
• Audio Commentary with Actor Malcolm McDowell and Historian Nick Redman
• “Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange” Documentary
• “Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange” Featurette
• “Malcolm McDowell Looks Back” Featurette
• “Turning Like Clockwork” Featurette
• “O Lucky Malcolm!” Career Profile
• “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures” Documentary
• Hardcover Book
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A Clockwork Orange: Anniversary Edition [Blu-Ray] (1971)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 20, 2011)
Although I long maintained a general lack of affection for many of Stanley Kubrick’s films, I always found one definite exception to this rule: 1971’s A Clockwork Orange. I can't even recall when I first saw it - probably at a screening in college - but I immediately responded to it and thought it was a brilliant movie. I've seen it a few more times since then - most recently via this Blu-ray - and nothing prompts me to alter that feeling. While I’ve developed more respect for Kubrick's other films, there's still little chance that any of them will challenge Clockwork for supremacy among his works.
Lots of movies offer different experiences when you rewatch them, and lots of movies are open to radically different interpretations that depend on the viewer's perspective, but Clockwork may be one of the most malleable films ever made. It can be seen in so many different ways that it's not even remotely possible for me to detail them here. Suffice it to say that it offers a very broad-based commentary on the way that society views crime and punishment and the rights of the individual.
Of course, that's how I feel today. I could watch Clockwork again tomorrow and think something different about it. That's the beauty of the film. It functions as something of cinematic Rorschach; what the viewer brings to it will be reflected in how they interpret it.
The funny thing about Clockwork and the thing that sets it apart from other malleable movies like Blade Runner is the fact that so much of it seems to be very blatant and obvious. It's a surprisingly graphic film; rape, murder and other atrocities are displayed pretty openly in front of the camera. As such, it isn't a surprise that so many people see Clockwork as sensationalist trash.
That perspective misses the point(s). For one, Clockwork offers such a surreal view of what appears to have been a near-future society that it's frequently hard to take all of the actions seriously. Much of the world presented seems so quirky and odd - sexual art predominates living environments, and milk from the "milk bar" pours from the breast of a statue - that the audience's perspective gets set slightly askew. Enough of the action seems off-kilter that the realism becomes muted.
Also, Kubrick presents the material with very little adornment. There's almost no flashy editing or wild camera tricks; the horrible acts are presented calmly and plainly, which makes them seem much less sensational than they otherwise might. For all the graphic violence, the film never even remotely glorifies it or makes it lurid; it's just there and is presented in almost a documentary style. Between this evenly measured approach to filmmaking and the somewhat over-the-top unreality of the film's world, I think Kubrick was able to show a lot that he otherwise would have had to cut.
And more power to him! Like Taxi Driver and many other films, Clockwork is one of those movies that is almost unimaginable in edited form; the violence is so integral to the story that without it, the picture would make little sense. Also like Taxi Driver, the brutality serves a true purpose; this isn't your Friday the 13th-style gratuitous violence for violence's sake. Only by depicting the actions of Alex (Malcolm McDowell) in a realistic fashion can we truly view how depraved he is and thus better understand him.
Not that we ever really do “get” Alex, however. In the climate of today, everyone wants to know who's responsible for horrible people like Alex. Is it schools, parents, media, red M&Ms? Everyone has a theory, but no one truly knows.
Kubrick doesn’t try to address the causes of Alex's lack of humanity. He comes to us as a young but fully-formed monster, and we receive virtually no cues as to how this happened. Sure, we briefly see his parents, and they seem to be rather detached, weak individuals; maybe they were too uninvolved in his life, and that started him down that path. Then again, maybe they seem so meek because they've tried to help Alex but he's simply fallen farther down the spiral. Who knows? Kubrick certainly doesn't seem concerned about it.
Really, his main focus is on society as a whole and how it deals with these issues. I used to think that the scenes in which Alex and his "droogs" go on the rampage took up much more screen time. However, the vast majority of the film takes place after Alex gets arrested and starts on his "rehabilitation." I think I felt that Alex's violent excursions took more time because those were the moments that most stuck with me. That's why so many people only think of Clockwork as a sick, horrid exploitation film; the first 40 or so minutes contain the most shocking material, and it can be hard to look past them.
However, since Kubrick wants to focus mainly on the way the modern world treats Alex and his ilk, the film really concentrates on what happens to him after he gets caught. Strangely, Alex becomes something of a victim, and the question of how much punishment is appropriate arises in important ways. The hypocrisy of the way society treats offenders also gets its due, plus all sorts of other things.
I can dabble in these issues but Clockwork simply puts too much on the table for me to even remotely cover its different facets. Suffice it to say that the movie provides an incredibly stimulating experience and stands up to vast amounts of discussion and dissection. Love it or hate it, you can't ignore it.
Special notice also has to be given to McDowell's amazing acting. It's his movie to win or lose; obviously Kubrick needed to fulfill his side of the equation, but McDowell is the only character of any substance in Clockwork, so if his work faltered, so would the movie. Thankfully, he offers a career-high performance as Alex. The depth and subtlety he brings to the character are nothing short of astonishing. Alex remains a fairly caricatured creation, but that makes him no less fully realized. Even if he never acted again, McDowell would have occupied a special place in film history for his work here.
40 years after its initial release, A Clockwork Orange remains a stunning piece of work. The film offers a sharp societal critique but never becomes heavy-handed or obvious. Kubrick maintains a solid pace throughout this brutal and horrifying but oddly whimsical piece. Others will disagree, but I feel that Clockwork clearly represents the best of Kubrick’s work.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus A
A Clockwork Orange appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not the best of the Kubrick transfers, this one seemed more than satisfactory.
Sharpness was a bit erratic. The movie usually displayed good definition, but occasional shots suffered from less than terrific delineation. Though the majority seemed concise and accurate, a bit of softness crept in at times. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, though, and edge enhancement appeared to be absent. In terms of source flaws, I noticed an occasional speck but nothing more significant than that.
Colors came across well within the film’s production design. This was a film that usually went with a somewhat sickly sense of hues. The tones tended toward the ugly side of the street, and the disc replicated those values accurately. Black levels consistently appeared deep and rich, as the film’s many dark tones came across well. Shadow detail seemed clear and concise as well. The softness was a bit of a distraction, but not enough of one to knock my grade below a “B”.
I also felt pleased with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix of A Clockwork Orange. The remix didn’t reinvent the wheel and go nuts with discrete audio. While the soundfield stretched the auditory environment, it didn’t depart tremendously from the audio’s monaural origins. Much of the mix remained firmly anchored to the center channel. Some effects spread modestly to the sides, but these were largely ambient in nature; I heard very little significant elements from the right or left speakers, though I did like the general atmosphere they provided. The surrounds featured some minor environmental reinforcement as well, but they didn’t show much activity in that regard.
Where the remix excelled, however, came from the delineation of the film’s music. The score showed fine stereo separation in the forward channels that really made those aspects of the track come to life. The surrounds also contributed fine support of the music that let the score breathe a bit. Ultimately, the soundfield remained a modest affair, but the broadening of the music meant that the remix merited inclusion.
Audio quality appeared quite good for a 36-year-old film. Dialogue could seem a little thin, but generally I thought speech was adequately natural and distinct. During the scene in which Alex enters prison, I thought the lines came across as a bit too rough and edgy, but otherwise dialogue sounded fairly positive. Effects were also a little drab due to the age of the stems, but they displayed no overt concerns and they appeared reasonably accurate and clean.
Again, it was the movie’s music that worked best. The score showed minor hiss at times, but otherwise it displayed a vibrant, brilliant sound. The synthesized music consistently appeared clear and vivid, as the track offered solid range. Highs were crisp and bright, while bass response seemed quite solid most of the time. On occasion I thought the low-end should have been a little deeper, but for the most part, bass was tight and distinct. For the best example of low-end, check out Beethoven’s “Ninth” as Alex watched the World War II film clips. All in all, the soundtrack of A Clockwork Orange stayed reasonably true to its origins but it created a much clearer and more lively experience than one would expect from an older film.
How did the picture and audio of this 40th Anniversary Blu-ray compare to those of the 2007 BD? I thought both discs seemed virtually identical. The DTS-HD track was very similar to the prior release’s lossless PCM 5.1, and the visuals looked the same to me. I made some direct comparisons between the two and didn’t notice any differences; even the same print flaws popped up in the same spots.
The 40th Anniversary release shares the same extras as the prior Blu-ray plus a few more. We get the film’s trailer as well as an audio commentary with actor Malcolm McDowell and historian Nick Redman. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. The track looks at McDowell’s casting and performance, locations and sets, his co-actors, working with Kubrick, the adaptation of the source novel, music, stunts, and a few other observations.
McDowell and Redman also teamed for a commentary on the Caligula set. This one doesn’t prove quite as scintillating as that terrific chat, but it works pretty well. McDowell provides plenty of fun stories about the flick and gives us a good overview of the production. We also find interesting tales such as the time Gene Kelly snubbed him. Despite some slow spots and a little too much praise, this turns into a useful commentary.
We also find a documentary called Still Tickin’: The Return of Clockwork Orange. This 43-minute and 42-second program mixes movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from Redman, McDowell, American Psycho director Mary Harron, writers/critics Alexander Walker, Camille Paglia and Mark Kermode, The Love Hexagon author William Sutcliffe, author/screenwriter/director William Boyd, writer/poet Blake Morrison, author Anthony Burgess, artist Damien Hirst, 1971 BBFC viewing committee member Ken Penry, ex-director BBFC Robin Duval, American Beauty director Sam Mendes, and American History X director Tony Kaye. We learn a little about the origins of the Clockwork novel and reactions to it, the movie’s release, aspects of its era, censorship and controversies, performances and the movie’s use of narration, some of Kubrick’s techniques, and some interpretation/themes.
Though it has some good moments, “Tickin’” is a little too inconsistent to really gel. It mostly focuses on the societal impact of the film, but it delves into enough production details to make it less focused. I’d prefer a show that gives us a concise look at one topic and doesn’t try to cover too much, as the broader emphasis negates some of the show’s effect. Even within the areas that look at controversies and social issues, it flits about a little too much. It’s still a decent program but not as strong as it should have been given the subject at hand.
Great Bolshy Yarblockos! Making A Clockwork Orange runs 28 minutes, 19 seconds and features associate producer Bernard Williams, Stanley Kubrick: The Complete Films author Paul Duncan, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography author John Baxter, Violence and American Cinema author J. David Slocum, The Complete Kubrick author David Hughes, One Hundred Violent Films That Changed Cinema author Neil Fulwood, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Oranger author Stuart McDougal, former Warner Bros. executive John Calley, costume designer Milena Canonero, makeup artist Barbara Daly, critic Jay Cocks, editor Bill Butler, and filmmakers William Friedkin, Sydney Pollack, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Hyams, Hugh Hudson, Caleb Deschanel, and Ernest Dickerson. We learn how Kubrick chose to make Clockwork, writing the screenplay and its uses of language, cast, characters and performances, budgetary restrictions, sets, locations and costumes, Kubrick’s methods and depiction of graphic material, and the film’s reception.
Though “Yarblockos” can be a little inconsistent, it usually offers a pretty good examination of the flick. While it lacks terrific depth – shouldn’t we hear about more actors than just McDowell? – but it touches on enough to make it worthwhile. The show provides good perspective on the flick and allows us to better understand it.
Two new featurettes follow. Turning Like Clockwork goes for 26 minutes, 19 seconds and offers info from McDowell, Hughes, Duncan, Baxter, filmmakers James Mangold, Oliver Stone, and Paul Greengrass, The Wire creator David Simon, cultural historian Sir Christopher Frayling, Heroes in Hard Times author Neal King, Censorship: A Beginner’s Guide author Julian Petley, director’s widow Christiane Kubrick, producer’s assistant Jan Harlan, and Kubrick family friend Brigid Marlin. The program looks at the film’s depiction of violence, its impact on society, and related issues. Clockwork was tremendously controversial in its time, and “Turning” digs into some of those topics in a nice manner. It creates a good take on the connected concerns and covers some unusual elements like the threats against Kubrick.
Disc One ends with the 10-minute, 30-second Malcolm McDowell Looks Back. In it, McDowell reminisces about author Anthony Burgess, Stanley Kubrick, and various experiences related to the film; he also looks over various photos and documents as he offers his thoughts. “Looks Back” doesn’t follow a particularly tight path, but it gives us some interesting stories, and that helps make it a good featurette.
Over on Disc Two, we get two components. O Lucky Malcolm! provides a “career profile” of McDowell. The one-hour, 26-minute and 12-second piece features notes from McDowell, Christiane Kubrick, McDowell’s daughter Lilly, son Charlie and wife Kelley, producer/friend Mike Kaplan, writer/friend Peter Bellwood, directors Edoardo Ponti, Robert Altman, Tamar Simon Hoffs, David Grieco and Mike Hodges, and actors Mary Steenburgen, Deborah Kara Unger, Neve Campbell, and Max Beesley.
As implied by the title, we learn about McDowell’s life and career. It works pretty well much of the time, though it essentially ignores his career from 1980 through the start of the 21st century. He worked during that period – shouldn’t we hear about it?
With all the friends and family involved, we get the usual happy talk, but it’s not all blather and praise. Bellwood shows the driest humor ever as he insults his pal so believably you start to wonder if he really does dislike McDowell! The personal reflections add more than they detract, and they help make this a nice and engaging career overview.
In addition, Disc Two provides a documentary called Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures. Previously released as a DVD – both in a Kubrick boxed set and on its own – “Pictures” runs two hours, 22 minutes, 15 seconds and covers the director’s life and career.
I wrote a full-length review of the documentary back in 2001. Rather than quote the whole thing here, I’ll just offer the link right here and this summary:
As a whole, “Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures” offered a reasonably complete and often compelling look at the great director. It provided comments from a remarkable array of participants, and it added a lot of solid, rarely-seen footage. However, for all of its positives, the show lacked the depth and nuance to become a great documentary. The best programs of that sort seem complete and leave you with a feeling that you really understand their subjects. Although I enjoyed this look at Stanley Kubrick’s life, I don’t feel like I have any greater comprehension of his talents than I possessed before I watched it. I enjoyed the show but honestly, I didn’t learn a tremendous amount from it.
In addition, the package features a hardcover book. This comes as part of the package; open up the disc’s casing and the book appears on the left half. It includes essays called “A Clockwork Controversy: Kubrick and the Banning of a Classic” and “Film vs. Novel: Kubrick’s Interpretation of the Burgess Classic” as well as cast/crew biographies, trivia and photos. The text finishes the set in a positive manner.
After 40 years, A Clockwork Orange remains an amazing and powerful film. I continue to feel wholeheartedly that it was easily Stanley Kubrick’s best work. The Blu-ray offers good picture, audio and extras. This is the best release of the film to date.
To rate this film, visit the original Special Edition review of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE