From Burgess to Kubrick:
Behind the Scenes of A Clockwork Orange
Everyone has a list of top ten movies, or could at least name their favorite. Ask anyone, and you are guaranteed a response. As you’re reading this, you are probably pondering your own answer to the hypothetical question. While there are a finite amount of movies in the world, there are infinite possibilities as to which one answers this question. For me, it is Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Older films have always been of more interest to me, considering nobody in this generation appreciates them anymore. The fact that you the reader aren’t familiar with this title only reinforces my point. It is this desire and this obsolete appreciation that drew me to Kubrick’s cinematic genius.
It was actually YouTube that originally sparked my interest in this particular film. The video is a collection of the top ten most controversial movies voted on by the general audience. Being an avid movie enthusiast, the video title alone piqued my interest. A Clockwork Orange caught my attention after it finished first on the list, ahead of movies like Fahrenheit 9/11, The Exorcist, and The Passion of the Christ, just to name a few. The video took clips from A Clockwork Orange, and it was this sneak preview that left me wanting to know more. The clips selected included a gang brawl scene, a home robbery/what I would later learn was a rape scene, and a gang of boys beating a homeless person. While incredibly twisted and sick, it wasn’t the rape or fighting that left me intrigued. Throughout these clips, this gang of adolescents were dressed in these strange masks, top hats, and white jump suits. They would sing songs like “Singin’ in the Rain” while doing these horrid things to people. This contrast caught my attention and is what ultimately drew me to this film. It was years after, however, that I would be introduced to either version of A Clockwork Orange.
I signed up for English 231, Reading Fiction, not really expecting much of anything to come from the following semester. Most classes never have that one unit that stands out and sticks with you throughout the rest of your college career and beyond. I would come to realize that this class not only met my low expectations, but exceeded them beyond any fathomable belief. Reading through the syllabus on day one, I skimmed through our book list for the semester and there it was: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. My attention was immediately caught and this class quickly became my most anticipated class of the semester. My expectations were high, with years of built up anticipation and eagerness to expand my knowledge of this title I had only heard about, but Burgess did not fail me. His dialogue and dystopian society kept me flying through the pages and I found myself at the back cover in the blink of an eye.
There is a problem with the novel I read, however. It was not the same novel written in 1962 by Anthony Burgess. It was, for all intent and purposes, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. However, the issue lies in the fact that the text required for the class is twenty chapters, and the original product by Burgess is twenty-one. This controversy stems back to Burgess’ American publishers, who struck out the final chapter to give the end a more sinister and dark outlook. Stanley Kubrick, the director of the film adaptation, admitted in an interview with Michael Ciment that he was unaware of the original final chapter, only learning of it after finishing the screenplay referenced from the American published version. A quote from the interview states, “ I had not read this version until I had virtually finished the screenplay. This extra chapter depicts the rehabilitation of Alex. But it is, as far as I am concerned, unconvincing and inconsistent with the style and intent of the book. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the publisher had somehow prevailed upon Burgess to tack on the extra chapter against his better judgment, so the book would end on a more positive note.” Matt Melis, author of an article for consequenceofsound.net, provides a quote from Burgess on the matter, stating his defense for the original ending: “He grows bored with violence and recognizes that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction,” explained Burgess. “My young hoodlum comes to the revelation of the need to get something done in life.” It would seem as if even Kubrick was unaware of the full story behind this forgotten chapter. This lack of awareness on the situation would not prove to be harmful to Kubrick’s credibility, however. Later in his interview with Ciment he states “I certainly never gave any serious consideration to using it.” Had he not known he was omitting a whole chapter from the original story, or in his eyes script, then there would be an issue of credibility. As he stated though, his omission was a choice rather than an absence of knowledge.
Transitioning from the differences between author and director on the ending, it is now appropriate to explore the film itself and the messages lying within the story. As I referenced earlier, this story is nothing short of violent and disturbing. In an interview with Anthony Burgess from 1974, the unnamed interviewer gets a quote from the author that contrasts greatly to his novel, saying “I don’t like violence, I don’t like presenting violence in my books, I don’t like, even, presenting the act of sex in my books; I am naturally timid about these things.” Shocking enough, he later explains why his work contrasts his views so drastically. “But in writing A Clockwork Orange, I was so appalled at the prospect before us, in the late 1950’s, the prospect of the state taking over more and more of the area of free choice, that I felt I had to write the book.” Burgess wrote his book as a way of portraying the problems of modern society through literature, again contrasting Kubrick’s film. The director has a simpler outlook on the violent nature of the story, having this to say: “The violence in the story has to be given sufficient dramatic weight so that the moral dilemma it poses can be seen in the right context. It is absolutely essential that Alex is seen to be guilty of a terrible violence against society, so that when he is eventually transformed by the State into a harmless zombie you can reach a meaningful conclusion about the relative rights and wrongs.” He does not see the A Clockwork Orange as a message to society and their violent nature, but merely creative emphasis for the underlying theme of the film.
Jennifer Kirby, author of a scholarly article for Literature Film Quarterly, would argue my whole paper altogether. In her article titled “A New Gang in Town: Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange as Adaptation and Subversion of the 1950’s Juvenile Delinquent Cycle” she reviews Kubrick’s film adaptation, but makes a point not to compare literature to cinema, saying “While such comparisons are undoubtedly valuable to the study of comparative literature, to reduce Kubrick’s film to an adaptation of a novel denies the extraordinarily cinematic nature of its sensory properties and distinctly visual tropes, as well as its explicit concern with screen imagery and its power.” As it is an article dedicated to reviewing the film, she no-doubt favors Kubrick’s version to Burgess’. The main point drawn from her article, however, is to contrast her views on comparing the two works to my personal views on the subject. This article is added to give this piece its own sense of credibility and validity as a standalone work of scholarly evaluation.
The following bibliography explores an interview with both Stanley Kubrick and Anthony Burgess, a scholarly article review of the movie in comparison to the novel for Literature Film Quarterly, and a column capturing the controversy behind the lost twenty-first chapter in the original book. Lastly, an annotated bibliography of both novel and movie are included as they are the focal point of the essay. Hopefully these sources will pique your interest, just as I was, and drive you to pursue more from the title.
“ANTHONY BURGESS INTERVIEWED IN ITALY IN 1974 ABOUT: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (and Other Subjects in General).” Anthony Burgess Interviewed in Italy In1974 about A Clockwork Orange. N.p., 1974. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
The interview of Anthony Burgess provides an intriguing “behind the scenes” of the title from the perspective of the author. The interviewer, who was not named throughout the article, begged questions that give Burgess a voice after the life the title takes on its own.
Most know the themes the novel raises. However, most are unaware of Burgess’ motivation behind writing the novel in the first place, myself included. The interview opened the viewer’s eyes to the motivation behind the book and gives a face to the name on the cover. Burgess reveals that while most would think he is basking in fame and money, his situation is quite the opposite. He states his resentment towards the novel, claiming that while he has written over thirty pieces of work, he is only known as the clockwork orange guy. The movie brings a whole other level of resentment, claiming it to even be a “nuisance”.
The article covers not only the novel but Burgess as a person, its questions scaling from the motivation behind the book to his hairstyle and onset baldness.
“A New Gang in Town: Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange as Adaptation and Subversion of the 1950s Juvenile Delinquent Cycle.” EBSCOhost. Literature Film Quarterly, 1 Oct. 2015. Web.
This journal entry provides an extensive review of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in comparison to Burgess’ novel. In it, the author delves into the film and hits on the similarities between the two adaptations. It dives extensively into the symbolism brought up by the film and defines each main symbol, from the milk bar to the presence of Beethoven. The author spends a great deal on Beethoven, understandably of course given how symbolic and important he is in the story. The author finishes up with the underlying theme of free will vs. determinism, and how the punishment depicted in the movie accurately displays that theme.
The review was lengthy and detailed, but provides an accurate and agreeable opinion on the film adaptation.
A Clockwork Orange. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Malcolm McDowell. N.p., 1971. Web.
IMDB.com summarizes the movie as such: “In future Britain, charismatic delinquent Alex DeLarge is jailed and volunteers for an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government in an effort to solve society’s crime problem – but not all goes according to plan.” While vague, it captures the main idea of the film.
Kubrick uses the novel’s dystopian setting to allow his creative muscles flex and paint a cinematic character like Alex unlike any character I’ve ever seen in a movie.
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: Norton, 1963. Print.
Barnes and Noble summarizes the novel as such: “Told by the central character, Alex, this brilliant, hilarious, and disturbing novel creates an alarming futuristic vision of violence, high technology, and authoritarianism. Anthony Burgess’ 1963 classic stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a classic of twentieth century post-industrial alienation, often shocking us into a thoughtful exploration of the meaning of free will and the conflict between good and evil. In this recording, the author’s voice lends an intoxicating lyrical dimension to the language he has so masterfully crafted.”
To give you a more insightful summary, this novel tells the story of Alex and his struggle with right and wrong, good and evil, free will and determinism. When an experimental study is done on Alex, it leaves him incapable of doing wrong and starts a political uproar. Not only that, it leaves Alex unable to function properly, seeing as he intends to do bad but is physically incapable of following through with his intentions. We the reader explore the events following Alex’s “cure” and his transition back into society.
Ciment, Michel. “The Kubrick Site: Kubrick’s Comments regarding ‘A Clockwork Orange'” The Kubrick Site: Kubrick’s Comments regarding ‘A Clockwork Orange’ N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.
This interview with director Stanley Kubrick provides readers with, much like the other interview with Anthony Burgess, a voice to the name on the screen. Michael Ciment, the interviewer asks many questions, all referencing the differences and similarities between the novel and film adaptation. Kubrick, a brilliant director of many cinema classics, gives insight to his creative vision when it came to adapting the novel into the masterpiece it would later become, Ciment fires question after question at Kubrick, giving an in depth look into the process the director took and all the work and creative decisions he made along the way, with respect to the story and keeping its originality and underlying themes and messages.
Melis, Matt. “The Real Cure: A Clockwork Orange’s Missing Ending.” Consequence of Sound. N.p., 09 Feb. 2015. Web. 03 May 2016.
The article cited is an in-depth look at the controversy behind the “lost” twenty-first chapter and provides quotes from Anthony Burgess along with the author’s own interpretation and evaluation of both novel and screenplay.