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A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick, 1971, film.

Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange
1971

"Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven." The tagline for American director Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film A Clockwork Orange makes headlines in Britain, where controversy erupts upon its release. Based on Anthony Burgess' 1962 futuristic novel of juvenile delinquency in London, the film depicts extreme brutality in a highly stylized, and heretofore unseen, manner. Kubrick's unpredictable camera techniques coupled with protagonist Alex's language (an English-Russian-slang hybrid invented in the novel) disrupt the narrative flow and disorient the viewer. Kubrick's opposition of ultra-violent acts with a mostly classical score also unsettles viewers.

A Clockwork Orange is released in Britain during a period when politicians and citizens' groups begin to question the escalation of onscreen violence. Fearful of its graphic content, the official British Board of Film Classification examines A Clockwork Orange in its entirety in 1971, quickly deciding it should be released with no cuts. For the next two years, Britons debate Kubrick's film, some lauding it for its artistry and social relevance, others condemning it for glorifying violence.

In 1972, Kubrick refutes the idea that one film alone can trigger violent behavior. The British press seems to feel otherwise, chronicling a series of "copycat" crimes allegedly inspired by the film. Owning the rights to the picture, Kubrick delays A Clockwork Orange's general release by a year, limiting its run to one London theater until the controversy dies down.

The controversy does not abate. In 1973, Kubrick himself, disheartened by continuing protests, bans A Clockwork Orange in the United Kingdom. The rape of a Dutch girl shortly thereafter, at the hands of men singing "Singing in the Rain" as Alex does, convinces many that Kubrick's decision was wise. The dispute over A Clockwork Orange never reaches the same pitch in the United States, but in 1973, for its American release, Kubrick replaces about 30 seconds of footage to win an R rating, as opposed to the X the MPAA initially assigns it. The altered scenes involve an orgy and a gang rape.

Although the death toll in the film is low by today's standards, A Clockwork Orange is still noted for its violence. Conceived as a satire on modern society and critically acclaimed worldwide, the film's lasting impact is visual, the image of a youth in a bowler hat forever associated with modern violence. Stanley Kubrick dies in 1999, only days after completing his final film, Eyes Wide Shut, itself provoking controversy over the graphic nature of its sex scenes. Hollywood responds to the director's death with countless tributes to his career.

In December 1999, Warner Brothers International announces that, almost 27 years after Kubrick banned the film in Great Britain, the uncut version of A Clockwork Orange will return to British screens in the spring of 2000.

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