Pi-nut Butter 🥜💦🌻’s review published on Letterboxd:
My favorite scene, by FAR, is the opening shot.
A cold open on brightly colorful title cards set to an unsettling rendition of Funeral For Queen Mary, ALREADY foreshadowing the corruption of pre-modern culture in the film's setting. Then a sudden match cut of Alex staring INTENTLY at the audience, the camera holding on him for a disturbing while, then panning out to the naked pannequins to show the sheer depravity of his environment. It's immediately capped off with a fierce transition to Alex preparing to gang up on an innocent man, without warning. All briskly setting up the tonal spiral that permeates the whole movie.
There's a strong case to be made that Stanley J. Kubrick's success can be simply boiled down to how he always has a KILLER opening in every one of his films. This stemming from what Kubrick confessed as his aesthetic philosophy: that "a film should be more like music than like fiction", and whether it's the 2001's rising planets set to Strauss, Barry Lyndon's flashing title score -> duel, Shining's ominous helicopter tracking shot, FMJ's hair shredding, and EWS's Nicole Kidman stripping, his openings are akin to something like Beethoven's intros in pieces like the 5th Symphony and Grosse Fuge, as if casting a LIGHTNING STRIKE on an empty field and expounding from there.
It's really a quality that I think is overlooked, particularly by Kubrick's millennial imitators that try to give off the same "abstract" feel, but the MUSICALITY of Kubrick's visuals & editing and his overall sentiments are completely lacking. What does that strange robot building opening in Under the Skin say about humanity? How does it foreshadow the film's narrative and tone? You can say what you want about Kubrick, disagree with his aesthetic standards as well as his philosophical statements, and you're certainly free to rebuke him for his negative influence on modern-day egotists trying and failing to make their films "deep like Kubrick", but his level of intelligent autism is a very rare quality now (you've probably seen the doc Stanley Kubrick's Boxes by now), his knowledge of great artists, filmmakers, and composers vastly apparent.
What I want to say to modern independent filmmakers is this: how can you hope to advance the medium and maintain it's integrity with capturing the audience's attention in the YouTube and TikTok era, if you're more likely to cite superficial influence from a filmmaker a mere 5 decades away from you than cite the works of people like Philo and Josephus, as Cecil B. DeMille did in the prologue of 1956's The Ten Commandments?
It should be emphasized, Stanley is not a "premiere" example of cinematic genius. All across film history, there have been countless filmmakers that could EASILY rival Kubrick in both profundity and aesthetics, and they've managed to be LESS broad & abstract in their delivery as well, fulfilling the objective science of connecting to mass viewers. The adjectives in Kubrick's favor are almost parodic in their vernacular, this pedestal that has been overbearingly bestowed onto him really just UNDERMINES him, as if Kubrick wasn't just another filmmaker, another man capable of mistakes and human feelings. These people ultimately end up ignoring what makes them subconsciously & consciously attracted to Kubrick in the FIRST place (many of them unable to tell you what 2001 even means, typically regurgitating surface level hype about his technical skills). It all boils down to the TONE he gives off in his films, it hits JUST the right level of the dark & abstract as well as splendor. His cynical irony perfectly fits the modern generation like a GLOVE, where pessimism has become commonplace even with your co-worker cracking jokes about the idiots who enjoy Party Pop. Kubrick's sentiments against humanity and bureaucratic institutions deeply gravitates people like them, bringing him to legendary status among contemporary film buffs compared to the relatively mixed reception he has received in his hayday.
So that brings us back to the opening scene. It's the future now. Humans have diminished society with their degeneracy. While 2001 used the space race to make commentary on what technology will amount to. This story uses, what I assume is the hippy era, to comment on what all of HUMANITY will amount to. Though it's not depicted as doom&gloom as any other 70s movie would have done, it's instead hyper-stylized and exciting, and with Alex thoroughly charismatic throughout (although Malcolm McDowell is too old to convincingly play a young teenager). You could say that this is an irresponsible stylistic choice as it gives the impression that Kubrick is GLAMORIZING the sickening acts of violence onscreen, the beautiful music and omages to classic sculptures not really helping the case. But you could also say that this is a benefit, as it actually helps DISTANCE the viewer from the violence by making it look so WEIRD. The movie itself actually COMMENTS on it, with Alex watching a violent movie and saying "Don't things tend to look more real when you see 'em on the screen?!"
Either way, it's something that DOES deserve to be thought about, and I mean REALLY thought about. Regardless of intent, this movie managed to inspire violence in the real world, as did The Birth of a Nation. Being fully aware of the theatrical context of both movies, things like this should be looked at more critically. And relishing in how cool it looks when Alex bludgeons people to death is detrimental. Both movies serve as an important REMINDER to film fans about the power of film, yet people end up somehow ignoring the significance of these films, what they entail for the medium of film as a WHOLE with regards to social impact.
This movie has maintained the praise it has received since being nominated for Best Picture, as opposed to The Birth of a Nation which has become completely diminished. Ironic, seeing how Clockwork, at least the film version of the story, actually makes a FAR more negative statement then Birth, one that gets less attention as it isn't tied to trendy left-vs-right dialectic nonsense.
When you have such sharp skills in making a strong opening to your film, it also means you're likely to have a strong CLOSING to your film. And unfortunately it works DEEPLY against this film. For those who don't know, A Clockwork Orange originally had a different ending: Alex, after being cured of the effects of the Ludivico Treatment, instead of going back to crime, he actually gives UP crime. It's a crucial part of the story, as it gives legitimacy to the films claim that humans should NOT be subject to such treatments for the sake of "good behavior". The theory that Alex was faking the sickness was one I never bought. Alex simply grew up from his adolescence and moved on.
Kubrick's movie completely throws that out the window.
Instead, the ending here gives the impression that Alex's evil prevailed, and the glossiness of the final shot implies that it's a GREAT thing that Alex was "cured" from the treatment, in a contradictory and provocative way certainly, but very misleading and almost EVIL. It completely shatters the humanist bent that the story was originally building up to. To be fair, this isn't entirely his fault, as he adapted the script from a copy of the book that was released WITHOUT the final chapter, as the publishers deliberately removed it against Burgess' wishes. But even then, Kubrick still read it, he still threw this together merely as filler to wait out producing his Napoleon biopic, he still wrote the script around it to culmulate towards this specific ending.
It's still... clearly... KUBRICK.
It's really irritating to see people online, even self-proclaimed movie experts, that say all of Kubrick's movies are purely vague and you just have to find the meaning on your own. No, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange are definitely clear in what they're going for. Yet despite the boastfulness of their "intelligence" for liking Kubrick, that attitude just represents the encouragement of film illiteracy that's ruining everything as we speak. Kubrick may be a master, or maybe he's not. But people really need to analyze the Who, What, Where, When, and Why of everything they like. Because if we continue to merely buy into auteurist hype, and forget the meaning of aesthetic communication entirely, our future is BOUND to be filled up with dozens more Kubrickian IMITATORS trying to get their name in the history books by attempting to be more deep than the next person with all of their films. More films that only have dark nihilism to offer and nothing that rewards the audience. More pandering to elitist cliques putting shallow films on a pedestal because it shares sentiments that they subconsciously hold and want to impose on everyone else, sentiments they don't even know where they COME FROM.
Alright, let's curb the negativity towards "film culture" for now (yin-yang, am I right?). A Clockwork Orange is still a minor favorite of mine, primarily for the merits of the book if anything. As a story, there's quite a few holes that hinder it further, particularly in the latter half which comes off as unbelievably contrived in how Alex just happens to meet all his past victims in the same MINUTE, and another where Alex is singing Singin' in the Rain in the bathtub, despite apparently being repulsed by the mere thought of violence. Also, a lot of the acting is ludicrously hammy to the point where I wonder how film buffs who always hate "bad acting" are so forgiving towards this movie. In addition, Alex and Dim are the only Droogs that get ANY attention, the other two guys are literally nobodies and may as well not exist.
Overall, what's my verdict?