Alain Resnais and Stanley Kubrick

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Two black-and-white classics of the early 60s, now looking much better than they ever have on home video, thanks to new Blu-ray editions from the Criterion Collection (“Last Year at Marienbad”) and Sony Home Entertainment (“Dr. Strangelove”). An appreciation here in the New York Times.

242 comments to Alain Resnais and Stanley Kubrick

  • Alex Hicks

    Barry Lyndon —a Bresson film made with a lot of (too much?) money?

    “I’m Stanly K …I wear a derby on my head as other do… they’re strangely stinking animals… No matter, I am too.”

    Ooops! That’d not Stanley K! That’s Bertolt Brecht!

    At …people who like Stanley Kubrick also like:
    Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, Tim Burton,Martin Scorsese,,David Fincher,Woody Allen, Sergio Leone,Jean-Luc Godard,,Christopher Nolan,Steven Spielberg, and David Cronenberg.

  • Jaime

    And the $1 million Netflix software prize goes to… Alex!

  • John M

    “Barry Lyndon —a Bresson film made with a lot of (too much?) money?”

    Too much money is more a Scorsese problem than a Kubrick problem.

    But I digress.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Johan, All I know is that a news report appeared last year contradicting this. Perhaps somebody might have further information?

  • Tony Wiliams

    Edo’s comment about Barry Lyndon also reminded me of Alan Ladd in THE GREAT GATSBY. He may not be Fitzgerald’s Gatsby but he portrayed somebody out of his depth trying to gain admission in an upper class society that had nothing but contempt for him

  • Michael Worrall

    Tony wrote:” Michael, A knowledge of Cantonese is certainly essential to understand the full aspects of the Hui/Chow “nonsense” comedy. But, like all good comedians, they also operate on the visual level making films like Chow’s GOD OF GAMBLERS 3: BACK TO SHANGHAI absolutely hilarious as in the invention of McDonalds in that old era.”

    I very much agree. ( I am the one here that is always going about mise-en-scene and to show it, not say it.) The knowledge of Cantonese has aided in my understanding of some of the aspects in the humor.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Alex did not put “Facebook” after “at.”

    I would agree with Hitchcock, early to middle Scorsese, Leone, Godard, but certainly NOT Tarantino and Lynch. Others may also have their different preferences.

  • andrewbl

    Odd to be posting here, since I’m really not a Kubrick fan. He seems to me like “My First Auteur”: with a visual style that intrusive and obvious, you’d have to be blind not to spot a unifying directorial personality, but is that enough? That technical flash, coupled with his winking attitudes to sex and violence, and the gurning performances he seems to prefer, make him seem like a limited, adolescent filmmaker to me. Films like “2001″ still work at the level of spectacle, especially in 70mm, but the ideas it traffics in are pretty jejune and the much-touted ‘human interest’ in the form of HAL looks pretty thin stacked up against, say, Ozu.

    BUT, though I don’t find much to laugh at in many of his films, I think ‘humourless’ is a weird and weak thing to charge him with. He’s clearly got a sense of humour, even if it tends to be cruel or broad in its most obvious manifestations. I seem to be in the minority, but I actually find “Dr. Strangelove” his most enjoyable film, and certainly his funniest. The topical satire may be obvious, but it’s ‘topical satire’, after all, so we should give it the benefit of the doubt from this historical distance, and it’s the semi-surreal character-based stuff in the film that seems to me to work best. Sellers’ work with multiple, stylised characters in “The Goon Show” is an important antecedent of his work in this film and at times he, rather than Kubrick, seems to be the animating intelligence behind the film (though Terry Southern is no Spike Milligan).

    Regarding Kubrick’s humour, it’s also worth noting that the screenplay for “Lolita” is largely his work, with Nabokov credited purely for contractual (and prestige) reasons. Nabokov’s screenplay is fascinating (and published), but is very different from the filmed script that Kubrick and Harris worked on without their pet novelist (much to that pet novelist’s annoyance).

  • JBS

    I’d like to revisit the notion of a “moral center” in A Clockwork Orange. Aside from the fact that the “moral” of the movie is actually plainly spoken in the film by a character (the prison chaplain in his objections to the Ludovico Treatment), there is of course a “moral center” to this (and any other) film: you, the viewer. Kubrick does not see fit to waste his time establishing basic moral principles. He simply presents events and points of view and allows the audience to make its choices.

    And, as we have seen even in this own thread, his films elicit varied reactions from both critics and admirers, in terms of where sympathy lies, in terms of what is meant to be funny and what is not, and so forth. I think this openness is what some viewers (not necessarily anyone here, I hasten to add) find uncomfortable.

    As for the question as to whether or not Kubrick is a “humanist”, I don’t know if we can discuss that without defining our terms. In his drama, he is a mythmaker, not a miniaturist, so his narratives are not about every-day problems. That does not mean they are unconcerned about humanity; aren’t questions of fate, the nature of evil, the dispensation of justice, and our place in cosmic history uniquely and essentially human questions?

    Does Kubrick’s refusal to tip his hand as to which characters, if any, one is meant to “root for” signify a lack of interest in humans and their affairs? I can’t see how such a conclusion can be made, honestly. And to find humans petty, violent, stupid, brutal, callous, and doomed is not the same as being a misanthrope. Only someone who cares deeply about humanity would ever have cause to be so deeply disappointed in people.

  • JBS

    I’d also like to come back briefly to the notion of sympathy with Alex in A Clockwork Orange. It was alleged above that the film invites us to “sympathize with the hooligans.” I ask the participants: was there ever a moment in the film (most particularly in the first third, when Alex is practicing his evil and before he is victimized and cured again) where you felt sympathy with Alex? Or is it simply that you fear that others may sympathize with him?

    Look at the “Singin’ in the Rain” scene. Let us grant, for the purposes of this exercise, that in its opening moments, with the Droogs in their goofy masks engage in their brutal slapstick, we as viewers may be intended to “enjoy” this in some way, to laugh (perhaps with grave discomfort) at the absurdity and inappropriateness of what is going on. But can we be expected to maintain that reaction as the assault grows in ferocity and the preparations for rape begin? When Alex starts cutting away his victim’s clothes, distaste and unease set in. The conflict between his happy-go-lucky song and the depravity of his actions deepens. The character of Dim monotonously repeats back Alex’s sung phrases. The face of the victim’s husband, and Alex’s face looking back at him, is distorted into ugliness by extreme wide angles. The ominous title music returns. And the scene ends not on Alex’s joy, but on a shot of the victim — still pre-rape — squirming uncomfortably, gagged, naked and powerless. It is not a moment of elation; in fact, it may be the most sympathetic shot of the latter Kubrick’s career that doesn’t surround the Brian character in Barry Lyndon.

    When you saw this scene, did you feel sympathy for the purveyor of the acts? I bet that you did not. And for any people out there who may have, doesn’t that say much more about them than the movie? (I am reminded of someone I used to know whose reaction to Saving Private Ryan was that she wanted to “go out and kill some Germans.” Of the film’s sins, I never would have listed “incitement to genocide,” but I think the comment said more about her than about the movie.)

    I will grant that there are certain things about Alex we are meant to find appealing, even in the film’s first third — he has intelligence, charisma, musical taste, a joy in life. That doesn’t mean we are supposed to sympathize with him, in my view. Hell, every action villain in The Age of Rickman has the same set of appealing characteristics, and those films are often cartoons in which the real consequences of the villain’s actions are sugarcoated or redeemed by blood. Here we have a film that shows real consequences of the erudite villain’s acts, and asks us real moral questions about it, and we claim that this somehow means we are supposed to sympathize with him? I just don’t see it. It’s much more complicated than that.

  • “If I understand correctly, Craig, the film is an indictment of the evil influence of television on human beings.”

    Jean-Pierre, that’s not what I was saying at all, and in fact that’s a completely ridiculous reduction of what I was trying to get across — but the blame may well be on me alone, a result of my having typed the small contribution on one of these newfangled ‘phones’ while at some distance from a real computer, and as such having possibly expressed myself very poorly and a bit too clippingly. But regardless, I should have known any attempt to engage about The Great Satanly Kubrick here would result in MacMahonist snark, so the fault is mine alone.

    Just for me to know where I stand for my own sake, to see this in words: I don’t think Boetticher (who is a great artist) even comes up to Kubrick’s ankles, all the ‘formalist’ and ‘moral’ power brought to bear on both sides of the equation. (And I’m paraphrasing Skorecki!) The erstwhile radicalism of classique is no longer so moderne. Mais à chaque son goo, comme dit si bien David Ehrenstein.

  • err, à chacun, as it were.

  • Barry Putterman

    JBS, I was interested by your two comments of last night, but isn’t there a bit of a disconnect here? In the first Kubrick is simply presenting points of view and allowing the audience to make choices. In the second he is specifically NOT wanting us to root for Alex.

    I think that your discussion of CLOCKWORK ORANGE leave out a very important aspect, the depiction of the victims. They come across as the kind of caricatures of effete intelectuals who are repressing their sexually and thus set up to be demolished by the swaggering, elemental men of action. It is Patrick Magee who is the Rickman character and McDowell who is Bruce Willis.

    Your argument about Kubrick not setting up basic moral principles and allowing the audience to make its own choices would be fine…if you were talking about Otto Preminger. But here, it isn’t a matter of whether our place in cosmic history is an essentially human question, but whether Kubrick is offering essentially human answers.

  • JBS

    Barry, I may not have rectified the two posts well, but what I mean is that Kubrick lets us make our own choices, and that I, as a viewer, simply don’t see how one could embrace Alex to the extent of sympathy.

    As to your point regarding the depiction of victims, I think it is important to remember that we are seeing them from Alex’s perspective. But even so, someone’s being dislikable is not justification for their being made victims of assault or manslaughter. I don’t buy the Magee/Rickman-McDowell/Willis — I don’t think there is a John McClane in the movie.

    I don’t grasp your comparison to Preminger, and as for your second sentence, I don’t know why the artist is required to provide “answers”, but isn’t the invocation “You must choose” an answer? In fact, that’s the most human answer there is, as the ability (and necessity) to choose is a defining human characteristic — which just so happens to be the main point A Clockwork Orange (in both novel and film form) attempts to illustrate.

  • Barry Putterman

    JBS, We are seeing the victims from Alex’s perspective? What happened to the audience making its own choices? My point about Preminger is that that is exactly what you would have seen in his version, the audience making its own choices. But not here. Characters need to have more than one dimension before choices even come into play.

    Simply dealing with essentially human questions doesn’t automatically make you a humanist. You don’t have to provide answers, but you do have to provide humans.

  • JBS

    That we are seeing the victims from Alex’s perspective doesn’t mean that we must accept Alex’s conclusions. I don’t see how that follows. I go into the movie knowing that murder and rape are wrong; that I then see a charismatic thug beating and raping dislikable or one-dimensional victims doesn’t alter my opinion or trick me into rooting for the thug.

    And, really, the only victims of Alex that are dislikable are the woman he manslaughters (and even then, she’s merely obnoxious, not vile) and the rival gang his gang beats (he also beats his fellow gangmembers, who possess all of his negative qualities and none of his appealing ones). There is nothing dislikable about the tramp or about the writer and his wife (the writer’s insanity and subsequent cruelty comes well after the assault, not before). I don’t think we needed all these victims established as innocents so as to foreground disapproval of the hooliganism. We see them as Alex sees them, as pins in a bowling alley to be knocked down, but that doesn’t mean that we are called to feel about them as Alex does.

    As for the humanist question, that really depends on what we mean by “humanist.” I also don’t consider “humanist” to be an inherently positive distinction. If the providing of humans in the narrative is the functional definition of “humanist” we want to use, then, sure, in Strangelove and Clockwork Kubrick may not a humanist — but how many satirists would be?

  • Barry Putterman

    JBS, We could go back and forth forever, but would only feel the need to if somebody had to be “right” and somebody had to be “wrong.” I don’t feel that way and I hope that you don’t either.

    The case for Kubrick as humanist is yours, as you made it in your original comment last night. I would never make the case for Kubrick as humanist, but that does not necessarily disqualify him as an artist. There are many ways to be an artist without being a humanist. I simply can’t find one that would fit Kubrick.

    And just in case the authorities are monitoring this blog, I also went to see CLOCKWORK ORANGE knowing that murder and rape are wrong and nothing that went on in the movie convinced me otherwise. But what does that have to do with what did go on in the movie?

  • alex hicks

    Some think that one is responsible for misinterpretations of one’s expressed views — at least of foreseeable ones (e.g., Herzog/Bellow early in HERZOG thinks so). I can tell you that the force of protagonist identification in films is strong. As I’ve said all too many times, if never memorably (except perhaps in my reference to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s “Hell on Wheels”), college students smart enough to technically qualify for MENSA very often think that TAXI DRIVER’s Travis Bickle is one heck of a good guy, killing scum. In my experience of students in film classes, CLOCKWORK was perhaps the most popular film among student cinephilic kids during the 1980s (along increasingly with Gilliam’s BRAZIL as the decade progressed). It seems to me that this was largely for a couple of reasons, One is the film’s facile anti-establishment cynicism(explicitly anti-Labour/anti-welfare state as the decade progressed), cynicism, which I don’t buy despite a liking for Burgess as well as Kubrick). The second was digging Clockwork Alex’s uninhibited, wild (environmentally excused?) hedonism. I may be elitist and hypocritical to say this, but I think the film has corrupting audience. I’ve seen to film’s popularity resurgent, perhaps not coincidently, with student from a couple of places that are pretty terrible (Kelptocracies above, more anarchically criminal below). I think it’s a problem. Though a “Dawn of the Dead” lover, I think the trend toward violence-induced adrenalin action films is something of a moral problem. I don’t think it’s at all a general Kubrick problem. I have no analogous problem Jack Torrance, who’s schizoid unraveling into delusion, megalomania and homicide seems to me illuminating and cautionary and quite unlikely to corrupt anyone. Overall, I think Kubrick is a moralist (though hardly a humanist). But one gone astray with Burgesses confused proto-Thatcherite dystopia.

  • Barry Putterman

    Alex, also CLOCKWORK came in between the two McDowell/Lindsay Anderson films IF… and O LUCKY MAN. How do you think that they set up perceptions of CLOCKWORK? And, assuming that students today are even aware of the Anderson films, how would that play out today?

  • Patrick Henry

    I thought this might interest Kubrick fans (and detractors): I just found my copy of Chris Chase’s book “How to Be a Movie Star” (1974), a collection of semi-humorous essays on various phases of show biz she encountered as an actress in the fifties. She was the cute femme lead in Killer’s Kiss (as “Irene Kane,” her then stage name). Her account of this experience includes a couple of letters she wrote contemporaneously to her sister. In one she says:

    “Stanley’s a fascinating character. He thinks movies should move, with a minimum of dialogue, and he’s all for sex and sadism. Talks about Mickey Spillance, and how the public eats it up. He’s also totally sure of himself. Knows where he’s going, how he’s going to get there, and who’s going to pick up the tab for the trip.”

    I don’t think he was enthused about Spillane per se, but rather cited Spillane’s success as a sign that the audience would get off on the violence, notably the fight with the mannequins, which someone here cited as exemplifying Kubrick’s humor. If you begin with the premise that Kubrick is a great sardonic (black) humorist, then of course many things in his movies can be seen as funny. Just think of the possibilities: all those slaves crucified on the Appian Way in Spartacus could have been viewed by Kubrick as an amusing example of man’s inhumanity to man.

  • Tony Wiliams

    I’d like to comment on Alex’s last post. He refers to ACO’s “facile anti-establishment cynicism (explicit anti-Labour/anti-welfare state as the decade progressed” as well as Burgess’s confused proto-Thatcherite dystopia.

    First, I don’t think the original novel had this agenda and, although I find this film, the most problematic of Kubrick’s work, I’m struck by how the world of New Labour is anticipated in this film. This unnamed Government certainly has no trade union-working class components as seen in the Anthony Sharp Minister who resembles the Prime Minister (modelled on Roy Jenkins played by Peter Howell in Trevor Griffiths’s 1976 ITV mini-series BILL BRAND. That series, (about a socialist Labour MP) never seen since first screening and not available on DVD like Loach’s radical BBC TV work such as THE BIG FLAME and DAYS OF HOPE, already envisaged the rise of New Labour and the end of the old Party.

    Also, in an era where we know that Tony Blair, Jack Straw etc knew that torture was going on in Iraq and recent video footage of police physically abusing demonstrators and innocent bystanders (seen on British internet news, if anything A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is more prophetic than anything else, especially in its view of cynical intellectuals ready to exploit a working class lad knowing full well that the State has programmed him for their own devious ends. These people also anticipate the odious opportunists represented by Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens today.

    I think Kubrick was operating intuitively but his targets were not the Labour Party of the 1970s but the cynical opportunists resembling Menjou in PATHS OF GLORY who foreshadowed Blair, Mandelson and the corrupt New Labour establishment who have allowed the murder of innocent people such as the Brazilian fleeing from police in the London Underground, to say nothing about criminalizing dissent, while allowing a culture of violence and alcoholism to reign supreme.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    Craig, I’m sorry I misunderstood you.Sometimes the posts here are a challenge to my feeble intellect. Now I don’t even understand where you stand. What’s a MacMahonian snark and how does that relate to Kubrick? I’ve never been a MacMahonian (aside from spending a lot of time in that movie theater) and Jacques Lourcelles, the MacMahonian par excellence, admires Kubrick, including CLOCKWORK ORANGE (which he considered a “timely” indictment of modern society). He also called SK “un classique” (as well as “un baroque” for good measure). Of course “a chacun son goo” — I miss David E., by the way.

  • Tony Wiliams

    JP, David may be found contributing to the blogs on David Cairns lively blog site shadowplay.com.

  • JBS

    Barry, I certainly agree with you that we’re not going back and forth with some “right” vs. “wrong” thing — this is a productive exchange, I feel. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers, anyway, just our own reactions.

    I don’t really know that I was positing Kubrick as a “humanist”, I was just staking out the position that he is indeed concerned about intrinsically human concerns, and that you don’t need to create sympathetic human characters so establish your bona fides as someone who likes humans. Whether that fits him into a definition of “humanist filmmaker” isn’t particularly of interest to me.

    Perhaps a more interesting question to those who think Clockwork means to make us actually sympathize with Alex’s thuggery (if any are still around and interested) is: how would the movie where we aren’t meant to sympathize with him look any different?

  • Alex Hicks

    Barry, I don’t have any answerfor you (nothing thiought through) except to say that I recall IF… and O LUCKY MAN as terrific, the forme rdespite its excessive anarchism, the latter as (in my memory of a post-release viewing) as some sort of great, working class picareque epic. (I don’t think kids ever became mush awareof the Anerseson film.)

    Tony, I don’t feel equipped right now to responde with any conviction to you, except to note that I feel you’ve thought the film’s relation to politcs through more than feel I can address right now.

  • Barry Putterman

    JBS, I’ll certainly admit the possibility of your position, but to me it sounds an awful lot like that old line from Peanuts; “I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand.”

  • Tony Wiliams

    Stanley certainly raises passions on this site so I thought I’d post a brief interlude.

    If not John Hurt’s time for a Face to Face from THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND, I thought I’d supply this quote from HOLY SMOKE (1985) by the late great Cuban critic G.Cabrera Infante.

    “Why so many old movies, old boy? Simply because those who forget the movies of the past are condemned to see remakes” (92).

    A great comment on the current state of Hollywood.

  • Barry Putterman

    true enough Tony. But hasn’t Hollywood been addicted to remakes from at least as far back os the 1918 SQUAW MAN? Personally, I’m looking forward to BARRY LYNDON: THE MUSICAL.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Sure, Barry, but not to the extent it does now. Although the 1930 MALTESE FALCON and SATAN MET A LADY were surely not as bad to make FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)an improvement on the originals. Is THE TAKING OF PELHAM any better than the original?

    I can just imagine BARRY LYNDON THE MUSICAL on Broadway with Ryan 0′Neal now playing Lord Lyndon!

  • Michael Worrall

    Tony wrote: “I can just imagine BARRY LYNDON THE MUSICAL on Broadway with Ryan 0′Neal now playing Lord Lyndon!”

    And a happy ending that includes Barry keeping his leg.

  • Barry Putterman

    You bet Michael. I mean, how could he dance in the finale without his leg?

    Tony, I also find the remakes of today appalling. Not just the idea of doing remakes, but trying to justify them artistically by pumping steroids into modest properties.

    It is just that we shouldn’t loose sight of how the studio system operated in our love of the Golden Age. In the production line need to fill the theaters with product, the studios were constantly remaking the properties they owned over and over again. Sometimes not doing a remake but just transposing plot threads and devices from one film to the next. As a kid, I remember seeing BORDERTOWN and THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT about a year apart on television and thinking “What the….?”

  • Tony Wiliams

    Michael W. has really hit the nail on the head: remaking BARRY LYNDON under Harvey Weinstein’s caring influence giving it a happy ending so that Barry gives Lord Bullingdon a good spanking in the manner of the immortal Duke in MCCLINTOCK!

    Barry P, “Yes, I remember it well.”

    (Please excuse indirect appropriations of Infante who sends up GIGI and writes in a stream-of-consciousness manner evoking memories of films and people now forgotten today. Reading HOLY SMOKE is a lot of fun and helping with 110 heat index temperatures outside in Black Rock.)

    The transposing of plot threads and devices was done more creatively then rather that the diluted copying practices of today.

  • JBS, not to prolong this discussion any further into the depths of late night, dorm room philosophizing (guys, it’s time to change the bong water), but I’d suggest Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “A Short Film about Killing” as an excellent example of a “Clockwork Orange” in which we are not invited to sympathize with the thugs. The first half of the film details a horrible crime (a young thief beats a taxi driver to death with a stone); the second half details the no less horrible crime perpetrated by the state (a hanging) against the criminal. No question here of coding the criminal as a cool gang member with a nifty outfit, hip slang and a sort of sadistic joie de vivre crushed out of him by an oppressively square government, but of a moral paradox put forward cleanly and precisely, leaving the audience with just the kind of questions that Kubrick elides by stacking the deck in favor of Alex (throbbing phallic life force) against the effete intellectual.

  • JBS

    Dave, though I don’t agree with the contrast you make between it and A Clockwork Orange, I also have a great deal of respect for “A Short Film About Killing” (though I’ve only seen the Decalog segment version, not the lengthened one), so I am happy to leave it at that.

  • Tony

    I can’t be the only one who sees gallows humor in the fate of the soldiers in ‘Paths of Glory’.

    Timothy Carey’s crushing the roach to give the other soldiers a longer life = Funny

    Joe Turkel being awoke just before the soldiers fire = Funny

    Richard Anderson’s smarmy prosecutor’ making a reference to ‘visual experience’ = Funny

  • Jim Flannery

    I know it’s late in the week but I can’t let this pass — Albert Shanker wasn’t a leader of the NYC education system, he was on the other side, the leader of the teachers’ union. And in 1974 he was head of the national union, so pretty much any parent in the country who’s child’s school went through a strike in the previous five years would have known who he was.

  • Shawn Stone

    I think remakes functioned differently under the studio system than they do now. Then, they were keyed to the kinds of stars/movies a studio made. Example: Paramount from the 1910s-30s. THE CHEAT with Fanny Ward was remade 8 years later with Pola Negri and 8 years after that with Tallulah Bankhead. (Same thing with movies starring Pauline Frederick being remade with Gloria Swanson and later Claudette Colbert, or Richard Dix assuming the all-American boy mantle of Wallace Reid.) Paramount marketed a certain kind of star, and tried to plug actors into the type.

  • Barry Putterman

    Shawn, You are absolutely right about remakes in the studio system. It was simply part of the process and every studio did it. Having to produce as many films as they did to fill their theaters, maybe they had to do it.

    As I said, I’m in full agreement with Tony about the abysmal quality of today’s remakes, which seem to work on the same market imperative that Broadway revivals and films taken from old TV series do.

    I simply feel that we need to keep in mind that remakes have always been part of the system, although the reasons for their existence changes with the marketplace.

  • alex hicks

    “facile anti-establishment cynicism (explicit anti-Labour/anti-welfare state as the decade progressed” as well as Burgess’s confused proto-Thatcherite dystopia.”

    Tony, To return to your disaggreement with this view, Why would Burgess’ clearly dystopian novel have been set in a materialist, behiourist, part Brit, part Russian (‘korova,’malchick,”soomka’ speaking) state if it were not intended as a satire that tarred Communism and Labour with the same brush. I can imagine plausible answers but none, at least in my present state of knowledge, that would be as likely as the view that the book is a conservative dystopian work (as sites across the web claim it to be). Isn’t the Boulting-Hackney I’M ALL RIGHT JACK that you criticized for, in part, its politics some months ago an equivocal or modestlyly conservative work in comparison?

  • Tony Wiliams

    This is a good point. I’m not all that familiar with the work of Burgess but I assume that he belongs to that conservative strain of British novelists regretting the 1945 post-war consensus as in Robin Maugham’s novella THE SERVANT and other such works that regarded the breach of the pre-war status quo with abhorrence. However, I think that the fear of Russian influence stems more from novels such as Constantine Fitzgibbon’s equally conservative WHEN THE KISSING HAD TO STOP (1960?) that emphasizes the weak state of a pacifist-minded Britain than anything else leading to a Russian take-over not Labour itself. That novel is a British version of RED DAWN.

    However, when you look at the politicians in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, they are not working-class, former trade unionists but well-dressed proto-New Labour “dandies” exemplified in the character played by Anthony Sharp. The Russian slang in the film version represents an Eastern hip version of Americanism as spoken by Alex and his droogs who never say, “Hey man,” “cool” or any of those contemporary parallels.

    I think an appropriate way to view these Labour politicians in ACO is to regard them as descendents of the right-wing Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell whose policies anticipated Blair & Co. Their use of repressive techniques certainly echoes England today if you recall the death of the innocent bystander clubbed by police during a G2 demonstration as well as those female activists brutalized by police as seen on video footage in last week’s GUARDIAN (UK) newspaper.

    Finally, I think Kubrick had recognized the absurdity of the Cold War thinking that remained in Burgess’s novel and was very alert to how a liberal establishment could become as repressive as their Eastern counterpart. As you know, New Labour has passed thousands of laws criminalizing dissent, made England the biggest surveillance society in Europe, and probably recognized that many Labour politicians (with radical backgrounds such as Chancellor Darling who was once a member of the anti-Stalin hard core International Marxists Group)would resort to stalinist methods when in power.

    Finally, after their radical backgrounds in the 40s with films such as PASTOR HALL, FAME IS THE SPUR, and THUNDER ROCK, the Boultings also became part of the establishment in the same way former radical politicians such as Peter Hain have become today. Leaving aside, the problems of character identification that I think are more complex in the film than meets the eye, ACO is probably Kubrick’s satirical take-off on Orwell’ss 1984 showing, as the title of Sinclair Lewiss 1934 novel goes, “It can happen here.”

    For England, it has – 37 years later.

  • Tony Wiliams

    Para 4, second sentence after “in Europe, and” add Kubrick.

    Sorry for typo.

  • JBS

    Fwiw — and I certainly don’t think the artist’s comments are dispositive — Kubrick identified in interviews the Sharp character as a “figure of the Right” and the Magee character as a “lunatic of the left”.