Monday, March 26, 2012

The Clockwork Variations

hello there

well, up front, here are some major warnings for the regular reader of this blog. i usually do my best to keep this site family friendly, but the subject which has inspired me to write this involves a good deal more mature, if you will adult, themes than usual. there are also some *** MASSIVE SPOILER WARNINGS ***
in place for everything that comes after the first 4 or so pictures. you have thus been warned.

another warning takes the shape of this probably being a rather lengthy article or post, and at times is, in accordance with the spoiler warning, likely to be an account of two films in comparison to one other.

there, you've been warned. now let's begin proper......

Anthony Burgess was one of the greatest, most prolific writers of the second half of the 20th Century. he produced some 80 books in his time. most were works of fiction rooted in the factual world, like the wonderful Enderby series, Any Old Iron and his two books on the dawn of Christianity, Man Of Nazareth and the superb The Kingdom Of The Wicked. if that were not enough, he also produced some of the finest, most valuable works of study on English literature, most notably on the works of James Joyce and indeed his survey of the history of English Literature.

despite all of this, Anthony Burgess was in his lifetime and since his passing in the early 1990s known for just one of his novels. it may have been a short novella more than an actual novel, but my word if it did not tower over every other work he produced.

A Clockwork Orange is some considerable distance away from being the greatest of the works of Anthony Burgess. in respect of reaction to the novel at time of publication, it did cause a few ripples with its graphic violence, even dressed as it was in the 'Nadsat' language Burgess created, and some controversy with its message that bad people who are bad of their own free will is a better society than good people made to be good by the State.

the reaction to the novel itself was of course not what cemented the legend and legacy of A Clockwork Orange. what did that, and indeed made sure that it was all Burgess would be remembered for, was the film version, as brilliant as it is controversial, delivered to the world by Stanley Kubrick.

if i were to write a general piece on a Kubrick film my great fear is that it would be nothing more than gushing fanboy stuff. i therefore try to avoid it, and oddly shall be here for the most part.

the controversy and trouble caused, or rather done in the name of Kubrick's magnificent adaptation of A Clockwork Orange is no doubt well known to anyone reading this. the decision of Kubrick to just simply withdraw the film from release in the UK was understandable just as it was frustrating. one of the more curious stories around the film was that a rumour started that there was no such person as Anthony Burgess; it being the case that Stanley Kubrick rather invented the name so he could simply blame someone else for the graphic content he filmed.

perhaps, as an excuse to put this next picture up, Stanley came up with the idea of a fake name on the set whilst having a chat with the star of the movie, Malcolm McDowell.

this post, as indicated, is not about Kubrick's dazzling version. i seem to recall reading or hearing that there was a go at a TV adaptation of parts of the novel not long after publication. how would you feel, however, if i told you that there was a film adaptation (of sorts) of the novel something close to a decade before Kubrick's vision? and i am not talking about the speculated, planned and thankfully never made intended "musical" version featuring The Rolling Stones?

how about we go one further - what if i were to say that the earlier adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was made by someone who the world at large, if not your humble narrator her, considers to be a more significant artist that Stanley Kubrick?

well, no matter what you think or feel, it happens to be true and it exists.

at some point in the mid-60s Andy Warhol made a film called Vinyl. no secret was ever made of the fact that it was an adaptation of the Burgess novel, although as far as i can work out it was never officially endorsed and nor were the rights to make an adaptation properly obtained. perhaps as a consequence of that, it is possible to purchase a very expensive copy of it on DVD, or it can be found by other means.

when it comes to telling how i got my copy of it, i am reminded of an article the great magazine Film Threat ran in the pre-DVD, pre-download days of the mid-90s about the workprint version of Apocalypse Now. their explanation of how they got it went something like this :

"how did we get it? we FOUND it. it was SITTING ON A CHAIR and so we just PICKED IT UP AND PLAYED IT."

that was good enough for them, so that is good enough for me to tell you how i got it. and with that out of the way, let's have a look at Warhol's interpretation.

those familiar with Kubrick's film version will get an instant sense of familiarity in the face when the Warhol film starts.

yep, that's right. the film starts with a close up of the face of the protagonist, with the camera slowly tracking back from him to reveal the scene! a question to be asked about this is "did Kubrick see the Warhol version before making his and borrow from it?". as we shall see, it's entirely possible.

the similarities, for now, end there however, as there is no lavish Korova milkbar in sight. instead we get a shot of the protagonist, here named Victor instead of Alex, apparently working out in a gym of sorts. missing also are the droogs, with Georgie, Pete and Dim apparently consolidated into one character, the interestingly named Scum Baby.

the gang of droogs are not the only thing to be condensed and consolidated, as it happens. the various acts of ultra-violence committed in the novel are reduced to one "everything in it" incident, interestingly enough the assault on the University professor.

regular readers will be aware of an article i did on lost Kubrick footage, and in that there were some images of the same incident filmed but never used by Stanley. there i speculated as to reasons why it was not used, another factor it seems might be because of the Warhol version?

when i say all the attacks from the novel are condensed into this scene, i do mean all, as apparently the professor is subjected to a sexual assault by Victor, with the phrase "up yours!" replacing the "in out, in out" Nadsat phrase.

i gather a homoerotic slant is a given in Warhol films - no idea, oddly this is the first of his films i have ever seen. anyway, this particular part of the attack is not exactly graphic, happening as it does out of the range of Warhol's seldom moving camera, but it does seem to go on in the background for quite some time, the attack continued by Scum Baby who you can see in the background here.

ah, yes. more similarities to the Kubrick version. the white outfits for a start, but how about Victor's weapon of choice, a bike chain? what was it that fat, stinking, billygoat Billyboy waved around in Kubrick's version again?

after some more implied assault on the professor, we hit a most interesting part of Warhol's interpretation. in the novel, after a night of mayhem the events of the next few days reveal that Alex has quite a hefty intelligence level, leaving the powers that be in disbelief and unsure as to what to do about his - to put it mildly - wild side. this is something of a crucial part to the book, for it throws out the moral question of whether Alex warrants or deserves redemption, and indeed should his free will be removed.

Andy Warhol simply rejects this aspect or, if you wish to be kind, replaces it with a rather avant garde interpretation of it. interpret how you will, really, but all we get is Victor dancing to Nowhere To Run by Martha And The Vandellas. twice.

by the way, if you've noted some figures on the side, i can assure you that the lady in the cocktail dress does not do anything but sit there, except to have a cigarette lit now and then. the chap in the suit we shall come to.

after the dancing, there is some sort of skirmish between Victor and Scum Baby. i did not quite follow it, my copy not being the best, but i think Victor was either trying to kill Scum Baby, or perform some "up yours" on him. or both, in which order of little relevance to Warhol.

the consequence of this is that Victor is arrested (the chap in a suit turns out to be a police officer), apparently being betrayed and turned in by Scum Baby. well, wouldn't you? as with the book the trial is skipped over, but we do get an interrogation scene of sorts.

again, my copy was somewhat muffled (blast these copies of films found at random on chairs), but as far as i could work out there is a scene in the prison where Victor wishes to undertake the "treatment" to make him good but he is warned against doing so.

for the next 10 or so minutes, then, we get the Andy Warhol variation of the Ludovico Technique, designed to stop people engaging in any violent, aggressive act. it's obviously not as lavish or visual as the Kubrick version, but it is here than Vinyl comes into its own and we get a shocking yet brilliant sequence.

up to this point, you would have punched anyone - quite hard and in the face - who suggested that Gerard Malanga was any sort of actor. his line delivery and indeed his dancing had been particularly horrid. however, under duress of torture, he is constantly asked "what can you see?". his responses carry with them genuine tones of being repulsed as he describes the horrors he is forced to watch as he is given the medication.

of course, it might be that his performance here got enhanced by the fact he was being tortured as this happened, with all sorts of bondage gear (including what is now known as a "gimp mask") being placed on him and, from what i am told, candle wax melted onto his chest. i am somewhat happy that my copy was blurry in this regard, then.

the treatement is completed and, lo and behold, Victor appears cured.

exactly what happens next is, sigh, a bit of a mystery lost in the copy. either Victor is subjected to a sexual assault in his cured state by Scum Baby (something that happened to Alex in the novel but was replaced by a drowning and sound beating in the Kubrick version), or its an Andy Warhol homoerotic moment of forgiveness, acceptance and willing activity. either way, this all gives way to close up displays of flesh.

and then this all gives way to the finale, which is an awful lot of dancing. the music is pretty good for this end bit, though - whoever was in charge of the stereo (and at all times you can hear records being changed) played a nice mix of The Who, The Kinks and, if i am not mistaken, The Stones.

Vinyl runs for just under an hour. it has the budget of a tin of soup, a cast of people who appear never have even seen someone acting let alone acted themselves, a script that seems to have been improvised and done as they filmed and more or lest no directorial artistic merit at all. and yet, oddly, it works as a rough albeit fake diamond of an interpretation.

any fan or admirer of A Clockwork Orange should make the effort to (ahem) obtain a copy of this film and watch it through at least once. yes, granted, it shows exactly why Andy Warhol is remembered more for his paintings and considerably less for his films, but allowing for limited resources and talent this is a rather good go at a visual telling of the story.

a question one has to ask after seeing Vinyl is did Stanley Kubrick watch it prior to making his adaptation? as highlighted above, there are certainly one or two things in it that somehow ended up in the Kubrick version. possibly sheer co-incidence, possibly Stanley saying "i'll take that, thanks".

a film that fans of A Clockwork Orange may wish to avoid, however, is something that was originally called Eloy De La Iglesia, most commonly translated from the Spanish to an English title of Murder In A Blue World.

cashing in on the fact that it is frequently called the "Spanish Clockwork Orange" means that it has also been released around the world under the name Clockwork Terror.

how the hell Warner Bros ever let who released it as above get away with the close font to the Kubrick original is beyond me, but there you go.

as an aside, i suspect that i also saw this film for sale once, in an ex-rental store in Middlesbrough about 20 years ago, under the name "Clockwork Culture". i didn't to my regret have enough to buy it at the time. i think it might be the same, but i am sure on the box i saw people dressed as droogs. nothing has ever surfaced on the net for me about it being "Culture" instead of "Terror", but if you are reading this and think you know what i am talking about please leave a message!

righty-ho, on to this really rather dreary film. in short, it's a below average "oh look, a woman can be a serial killer" affair made by someone who worships Kubrick and has access to money and film making equipment with Clockwork Orange elements seemingly wedged in as an afterthought.

the serial killer is a nurse, played by none other than Sue Lyon, yes she of Kubrick's version of Lolita fame. you can actually have a fun game of "spot the Kubrick reference" with this film i guess.

Lyon is an award winning and respected nurse, who happens to be working at a hospital where a bizarre "criminal correction" proceedure is being tested. this causes some mild interest in the audience, but as that path is being explored we instead cut away to some sort of gang of thugs.

i am not sure if the above picture is clear, but my reaction to the above was this : ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. The legendary Durango 95 from Kubrick's film has been replaced with a cheap yellow beach buggy, the "droogs" are all in black instead of white, and have crash helmets - with orange visors no less - instead of fancy hats. the term "rip off" has just never felt so apt. the leader appears to have a whip instead of a cane, for the record.

any humour one finds in the rip off above disappears as the gang move in to assault a family who, as it would happen, were about to sit down and watch Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange together.

the assault, although far from graphic onscreen, is sickening by suggestion and leaves one in a great state of discomfort. in no way, shape or form is it easy viewing.

it is perhaps just as well, then, that the film remembers one of its plot points and returns to the Sue Lyon character just in time to see her murder someone.

this all gets a touch contrived, so bear with me. the gang we saw has a falling out with one of the members exiled, and somehow that exiled member sees Sue Lyon dumping the body. he becomes quite enchanted with her and begins, frankly, stalking her.

hopes of this being a version of A Clockwork Orange are raised (a bit) when we get to see this radical new treatment for criminals in action.

erm, yes. it does amount to a semi-naked man being strapped to a bed and given electro-shock treatment.

rather bewilderingly, you are never given any information or insights into those who get the treatment. they are certainly not members of the gang seen earlier and nor do you see or hear of what crimes they apparently committed. the phrase "random scenes wedged in" springs to mind.

a rather fascinating comment on Spanish police crops up, i think it was around the time that Sue Lyon had "converted" and subsequently killed a young gay Spanish boy. the police, 3 or 4 murders down the road, start to suspect that the killer might just have access to medical equipment, since all of the victims have been stabbed with a scalpel. the police immediately then spring in to action and ask a doctor, the one who seems to be semi-dating Sue Lyon, if he might agree with this possible interpretation.

this film really is as bad as it sounds thus far, and gets worse. the exiled member of the gang confronts Sue Lyon and rather blackmails here than turning her in or turning the tables on her. this leads to all sorts of scenes of him spending her money.

this is seen by his former gang members, who presume he has in fact stolen money from them. to this end, they promptly find him and beat him senseless.

which leads to him being sent to the same hospital that Sue Lyon works in, possibly for that "corrective" treatment.

needless to say, Sue Lyon ensures that he is no longer able to blackmail him. and then, thankfully, the film is over.

really, i cannot say this enough - avoid this particular film. don't be tricked like i was. it is rubbish.

it's a bit peculiar, considering how powerful the book is, that A Clockwork Orange has not inspired yet more rip-offs or honest adaptations. i mean, sure, it would be a brave and foolish person who dared make another film of it in the light of the Kubrick masterpiece, but there are so many talented directors out there it is a wonder that no one has tried. there was of course that wonderful April Fool joke, from 2000 or 2001, where it was announced that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg would co-direct a remake, but that's it.

and, other than the brilliant episode of Sledge Hammer! called A Clockwork Sledge, not forgetting numerous references in The Simpsons, that's the grand total of my knowledge of variations in film of A Clockwork Orange. if i have missed a film or two, leave a comment an let me know!

viddy well.............................
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