A Clockwork Orange

Categories: 1970s, Country, Decade, Event, Film, Key figure, Media, United Kingdom A Clockwork Orange
Date: 8207

United Kingdom

A Clockwork Orange is the dystopian tale of adolescent Alex de Large who is the leader of a violent gang of youths called the “droogs”. His favourite pastimes are watching “viddys” while drinking drug-spiked “milk plus” at Korova Bar with the disenfranchised “droogs”. Together they commit “ultra-violence” while wearing matching white outfits complemented by black eyeliner, bowler hats and codpieces. The droogs fight another gang, beat up a homeless man, break into people’s houses and cause mayhem, including rape and murder. On one rampage, after a sequence where Alex batters a woman to death with an oversized porcelain phallus, the droogs leave Alex at the crime scene to be caught by Police. Alex is institutionalized and receives the Ludovico treatment, a procedure in which he is forcibly shown sexual and violent televisual content and given drugs to make him ill, sometimes accompanied by Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (formerly Alex’s favourite ultraviolence accompaniment). At the conclusion of his treatment he is assumed to be “cured” of his previous predelictions, but still unable to properly return to society. At the end of the film Alex can be viewed as a sympathetic character by an audience who observe the ultimate devastation of the state’s violence against him, despite his earlier anti-social behaviours. In their final acceptance of Alex and use of the Ludovico treatment, the British government is shown in an unfavourable light. As the film directly speaks to debates regarding the influence of media and child protection, it also demonstrates ‘the dangers and horrors of science and authority tinkering with the human personality’ (‘A Clockwork Orange’, 1972), and the film’s capacity to polarize audience opinion meant the film met with much controversy after its release.

Initially a futuristic novel written by Anthony Burgess and published in 1962, an early script of A Clockwork Orange was rejected in 1967 by the President of the British Board of Film Censors’ (BBFC) John Trevelyan. A later version written by Kubrick and set to be a British production was approved with an X certificate for adults, which had recently changed from the age of sixteen to restrict film content to those over eighteen (Robertson, 2005, p143). Kubrick himself limited the film’s British release to London initially due to concern about the film’s influence. While many critics generally sang the film’s praises for Kubrick’s artistry, the British tabloid press reflected negatively on the film’s violence which resulted in a “moral panic” regarding the film’s release (Darlington, 2016). The press and even the prosecution alleged that the film sparked a series of so-called “copycat” crimes that began with the murder of a homeless person in 1973 (Darlington, 2016, p122). The potency of events, and death threats received by Kubrick himself, led Kubrick to convince Warner Brothers to pull A Clockwork Orange from its U.K. release a year after it’s British release. The film was only made available for purchase in this region after Kubrick’s death in 1999 (BBC, 2002). – Rachel Cole

Further reading:

Book. Robertson, James C. 1993. The hidden cinema British film censorship in action, 1913-1975, Cinema and society. London: Routledge.

Book. Barber, Sian. 2011. Censoring the 1970s the BFFC and the decade that taste forgot . Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Pub.

Film review. ‘A Clockwork Orange’. 1972. Tharunka (NSW, Australia), 25 April, p15, Trove database.

Journal article. Darlington, Joseph. 2016. “A Clockwork Orange : The Art of Moral Panic?” The Cambridge Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 2, June, pp. 119-134.

Letter to the New York Times. Kubrick, S. 27 Feb 1972. https://www.nytimes.com/1972/02/27/archives/now-kubrick-fights-back-movies-now-kubrick-fights-back.html

News article. ‘Orange to show on Channel 4’, 2002, BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/2289597.stm

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