Thursday, September 3, 2020

A Clockwork Orange - 50 Years Ago

The first book I ever read was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Still one of my favorite reads. I followed it up with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but despite the illustrious beginning to my sojourn as a reader, I was slow to call myself such. Wasn't until many years later that I picked up Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s Breakfast of Champions. I whipped through it in a day and while the logical next step was Slaughterhouse-Five, I forced myself through Player Piano instead, Vonnegut's first novel. It was a difficult read but worth it, that was the book that made me a reader. My favorite novel though was A Clockwork Orange. (Today being far more sentimental, it is Kazio Ishiguru’s The Remains of the Day.)

The Phantom Tollbooth - Tock, the dog that goes Tick
The other day my oldest asked if I'd ever read A Clockwork Orange, and if I did, how could I? Because of the language used, which Anthony Burgess referred to as Nadsat, it takes an hour to plod through the first page alone. Here it is. I can't remember what I'm supposed to do today, but I have the first page memorized.

What’s it going to be then, eh?

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Korova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither. Well, what they sold there was milk plus something else. They had no licence for selling liquor, but there was no law yet against prodding some of the new veshches which they used to put into the old moloko, so you could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches which would give you a nice quiet horrorshow fifteen minutes admiring Bog And All His Holy Angels and Saints in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg.Or you could peet milk with knives in it, as we used to say, and this would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one, and that was what we were peeting this evening I’m starting off the story with.

Today coincidentally was the first day of production, 50 years ago, for the Stanley Kubrick film based on the book. While the book is indeed fabulous, the movie at times exceeds the ideology and of course, Malcolm McDowell's Alex is impeccable.

It's interesting to note that when it was released in the 1960s, the British version of the novel was incomplete. Burgess did not include the final chapter that appears in both the American version and as the ending to the film. Still one of my favorite books, and classic Kubrick.

One of a myriad of creative touches that made Kubrick Kubrick was the incidental music. For Clockwork Orange (Kubrick, for some reason, dropped the "A" from the title), the soundtrack was a mix of classical recordings, such as Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie" and the electronic music of Walter (then transitioning to Wendy) Carlos. 

Without having to say it, Carlos, Rachel Elkind, and Kubrick had great taste in music. I can imagine the impact the vocoder had on an audience in 1972, but while it sounds dated at times, it's used to good effect, notably on The 4th Movement of Beethoven's Ninth and on Henry Purcell’s "Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary," which sounds like it was written expressly for the synthesizer. 

Overall, A Clockwork Orange: Wendy Carlos’s Complete Original Score is a strong, cohesive work that stands entirely on its own despite having been written to accompany a film.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting perspective.

    One thing ... Kubrick didn't actually drop the "A" from the title, though it may seem that way from just looking at the original poster art for the film. In fact, the letter "A" is actually the pyramid shape in the design — above Kubrick's name — which Alex is peering through. Also, all the printed material associated withe movie and the opening titles say "A Clockwork Orange."