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Friday, 17 March, 2000, 17:28 GMT
The droogs don't work

Is Clockwork Orange past its sell-by date as social satire?
By BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley

Thanks to the demise of director Stanley Kubrick, hardened film buffs in the UK are about to have their favourite one-upmanship wheeze blown wide open.

For 25 years A Clockwork Orange has gone unseen in Britain at Kubrick's behest.

Those wishing to watch a film which prompted national hysteria in the early 70s had to endure hopelessly grainy pirate videos or search out screenings while on their holidays abroad.

Malcolm McDowell
Orange disorder: Kubrick's thuggish anti-hero Alex
For British film snobs, breaking Kubrick's self-imposed embargo was a badge of honour and perhaps more satisfying than the watching of the movie itself.

Warner Brothers and the director's widow, Christiane, are putting this all to an end by allowing it to go back on general release.

With the clandestine thrill gone, audiences will be free to judge A Clockwork Orange on its artistic merits alone.

Made in 1971, it undoubtedly caught the zeitgeist of its day. Tapping into generational tensions of the time, the story of a band of thugs on the rampage in a mid-1990s Britain was blamed - perhaps unfairly - for inciting real life youth violence.

Viewed almost 30 years on, will the film - described as "flawed" by several critics - now seem as anachronistic as the Bay City Rollers or a British car industry?

Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick withdrew his film after press furore
Total Film magazine's Cam Winstanley says all future predictions reflect the time in which they were made. So it is that Kubrick's crystal ball gazing is more representative of Britain in 1971 than today.

"All films set in the future date really badly. Bladerunner is about the only one that hasn't and even that looks really clunky."

Sight and Sound's Leslie Felperin agrees: "The art direction stuff in A Clockwork Orange looks really dated. You can't blame them for not predicting future technology, but it raises a laugh to watch characters sitting down in front of high-tech typewriters or playing music on dictaphones rather than CDs or MP3s."

Future shock

Although a distraction, the look of the film is surely not important if the story still resonates with today's audiences.

"It has unfortunately missed out a lot of social changes in Britain. The country predicted in the film is far less ethnically diverse than our reality, especially the Thamesmead estate where it was shot," says Ms Felperin.

Teenage kicks: Youth violence 70s style
She also notes Kubrick's inability to tackle feminism - an issue of the 1970s which is of even more importance now. In a film which includes sexual violence, this omission may jar with modern audiences.

"There are no strong female characters. Its women are all victims. Even the mother of the film's violent anti-hero Alex is battered down and subservient."

Although based on the Anthony Burgess novel, Kubrick's film omits the book's redemptive ending, where Alex voluntarily turns away from his vicious youth and looks forward to adult life.

While Burgess's story was one of free will triumphing, the state had already tried to stop Alex's evil ways with a disturbing form of aversion therapy, the Kubrick film shifts the accent to the youth's taste for carnage.

Dressed to kill

Sporting bowler hats, white overalls and bother boots, spouting their own distinct youth argot "nadsat", Alex and his "droogs" wreak a terrible revenge on their mortal enemies - adults.

Burgess, who was reputedly spurred on to write his 1962 novel by a vicious wartime attack on his wife by a gang of deserters, based his droogs on Britain's surly "teddy boys".

Punks were among the last of the youth "street tribes"
Kubrick may have looked for inspiration to the battling mods and rockers of the late 60s. The skinheads and punks of the 70s were certainly further evidence that youthful rebellion could have a dark, violent edge.

Dr Katie Milestone of the Manchester Institute for Popular Culture, thinks such groups are largely a thing of the past.

"Youth culture has changed dramatically since the 1970s. These tribes and gang formations have largely subsided."

Violence, as depicted in A Clockwork Orange, is also less a part of youth culture and certainly not a part of defining group identity in the UK.

Teen rage

"Youth culture used to be played out on the streets, where it was easier to spot your enemies - those who didn't wear the same clothes as you.

"Today it has moved inside, into the clubs, where violence and confrontation are less relevant."

Clockwork Orange poster
Can the film cut it with today's youth?
The distinct gulf between the young and old, a prime factor of youth rage, has also evaporated as casual dress, pop music and clubbing pervade the lives of thirty- and fortysomethings.

"The idea of youth as an alienated group pitched against the rest of society is outdated," says Dr Milestone.

Given this, it seems the generation and a half who have missed out on seeing this "dangerous" film will leave cinemas puzzled by 25 years of hype rather than desperate to find an old tramp to "tolchock" to death.
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06 Dec 99 | Entertainment
Clockwork Orange returns uncut
14 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Minister demanded Clockwork screening
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