The Set of 400: #15 – My Favorite Deformed Popsicle

Today! Because you should come and get one in the yarbles, if you’ve got any yarbles –

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick (x6)

Starring Malcolm McDowell (x2), Aubrey Morris (x3), Patrick Magee, Warren Clarke (x2), Philip Stone (x3), David Prowse (x4), Adrienne Corri, James Marcus, Miriam Karlin, Michael Bates, Carl Duering, Clive Francis, Godfrey Quigley, Sheila Raynor, Michael Tarn, Richard Connaught

Man, you get a pretty warped view of the world when you’re exposed to A Clockwork Orange relatively young, I can tell you that. It holds an odd place as one of the pivotal movies of my life, and not in a completely good way. It didn’t inspire me to a life of crime or a completely amoral outlook on how to behave in society, but it did damage some very early relationships of mine, and I was completely unapologetic about it, because hey, A Clockwork Orange is art! I better explain –

How or why I knew what A Clockwork Orange was is a mystery – I read a lot of books about movies and Leonard Maltin’s Home Video guide and Oscar history and whatnot, so probably there? – but I got a copy of the Anthony Burgess book sometime around 1993, at the King of Prussia Mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. The book is pretty lurid, but not exactly the X rated mayhem that they filmed. The movie also lops off the last chapter of the story, to pretty solid effect.

One version or another of this book was always within arm’s reach growing up

Fast forward to 1995ish – I’ve got a high school girlfriend, and me being a young punk film know-it-all I decide to proudly show her the Clockwork Orange movie. Later, when asked by her parents what we did hanging out at my parents’ house, she told them we watched this film, which they ran out and rented, which sent them through the goddamn roof, pretty understandably. Or not – I mean, we were like 16ish at that point? 15 or 16? And this movie was rated X a long, long time ago – by today’s standards it’s still an R, but not even an overly hard R, I’d say. Anyway, this created massive strife in our teenage relationship, but did afford me the luxury of getting yelled at by a girlfriend’s mother at a young age, so as not to be unprepared when this would come up again in the future. Thanks, Anthony Burgess!

My original paperback barely alluded to the film at all

None of this is why Clockwork Orange is one of the pivotal movies of my life. Sure, it came at that most fertile, influential period in my film watching – 1992 to 1994 – but it also served as my gateway to the overwhelming greatness of Stanley Kubrick. I’d kind of seen 2001 at this point, but without knowing that there is any further depth to that film, a kid could write it off as a pretty dull non-Star Wars, putting it in a decidedly lesser position when that kid wanted to watch something Star Wars-esque. And that was about it – all I knew about Full Metal Jacket I’d learned from 2 Live Crew and The Shining was that movie where Jack Nicholson said “Here’s Johnny.” That was the sum total of my Kubricking.

After Clockwork, I got way into the canon, to the point that this is the sixth and not final Kubrick film on this list – making him one of two directors landing two movies in my top 15 (stay tuned!). It helped that Clockwork was so scandalous, both in my personal life and the world at large – it was banned in England for years after its initial release thanks to some copycat crimes, plus its X rating made it notorious with critics group selections and at the box office. So just watching this movie, even decades later, still felt sorta taboo. And yeah, the movie has some rough business in it, but it all serves a very definite purpose, unlike some ultraviolent/sex laden shock films from then and now. It might not be for everyone, but it is a near perfect dystopian horrorshow, marking the end of the real heyday of Kubrick’s career. There would only be four more movies after this, spread out across the next 28 years, and they are very hit (Shining, Full Metal Jacket) and miss (Barry Lyndon, Eyes Wide Shut).

The only Kubrick film I saw new in theaters – decidedly meh

This all led to the celeb encounter highlight of my life – some of which have been recounted in this space, some of which just had no occasion (see you on my Set of 400 TV Shows in 2026!) – circa 2011, I think.

Alex DeLarge himself!

This is only my best friend Malcolm McDowell’s second list film, following a cameo in #219 The Player, while Darth Vader great David Prowse leads the way, marking this as his fourth list film, following the original Star Wars trilogy (#25, #53, and #86). Kubrick’s other five entries are #93 2001, #95 Full Metal Jacket, #121 The Shining, #178 The Killing, and #245 Lolita. 

Coming tomorrow! But here’s my advice to the rest of you – take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything, but they can’t buy backbone –

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