Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Repeat Viewing: A Clockwork Orange (1971, Stanley Kubrick)

TSPDT placing: #93

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Anthony Burgess (novel), Stanley Kubrick (screenplay)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!!

In Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess' bizarre 1959 dystopian novel, a juvenile delinquent (Malcolm McDowell) and his gang of droogs whittle away their time partaking in such wholesome activities as beating homeless drunks, warring with rival gangs, raping helpless women, and enjoying the music of Ludwig Van Beethoven. There are two things happening in this film: one that Kubrick inherited from Burgess' writing, and another that is endemic to the cinematic medium.

The first role of A Clockwork Orange (1971) is as a rather vicious political satire, dryly mocking the hypocrisy of the government and its policies on institutionalisation and criminal rehabilitation. In the film, the Minister of the Interior (Anthony Sharp) is depicted as opportunistic and self-serving, latching onto the unproven Ludovico technique in a bid to stem his party's failing popularity with voters. When public opinion turns against the therapy, the Minister very swiftly back-peddles, reversing the treatment so that Alex may return to his former ultra-violent ways: "I was cured alright!"

The UK edition of Burgess' novel contained a final chapter in which Alex sees the error of his former ways, and vows to reform into a productive member of society. Kubrick was unaware of this addition until he had almost completed the screenplay, and never considered using it in the film. This was, I think, a good decision. Burgess' ending shies away from the problem: by letting human nature run its course, he seems to be implying that the problem of juvenile delinquency will sort itself out. Kubrick, admittedly, doesn't offer any solutions of his own, but the corrupt manner in which he ends the film leaves a sour taste.

The Ludovico technique depicted in the film involves the screening of movies, which allows Kubrick room for a degree of self-referentiality. It is in the audiences' nature to recoil from acts of sex and violence, and Kubrick's hard-nosed, deliberately-subversive approach (utilising the perspective of its biased protagonist and narrator) only encourages this response. Just as Alex is exposed to the Ludovico aversion therapy, Kubrick is exposing his audience to the same treatment. Does it work? Do we become desensitised to the violence, or do we begin to associate socially-accepted cues (i.e. Beethoven's Ninth, "Singing in the Rain") with acts of evil?

Currently my #1 film of 1971:
1) A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick)
2) Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah)
3) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart)
4) The French Connection (William Friedkin)
5) Get Carter (Mike Hodges)
6) Bananas (Woody Allen)
7) The Stalls of Barchester (Lawrence Gordon Clark) (TV)


Repeat Viewing: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991, James Cameron)

TSPDT placing: #565

Directed by: James Cameron

Watching Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) for the first time in three years made me remember how amazing movies could be. Director James Cameron had previously achieved unexpected success with The Terminator (1984), a moody and relentlessly bleak tech-noir thriller. The inevitable sequel came armed with a blockbuster budget and state-of-the-arts visual effects, and it is a triumph on every level. The two films are very different, of course – just as Cameron's Aliens (1986) was very different from Ridley Scott's Alien (1979). The first Terminator film was a down-and-dirty dystopian sci-fi, where the modern-day setting is just as drab and ominous as the terrifying future. In Judgement Day, Cameron juggles a tricky juxtaposition of hope and despair. The blindingly-vivid 1990s action sequences feel as though they were captured in the flash of a nuclear explosion, and their dazzling intensity make our glimpse of a bleak, war-ridden future all the more horrific.
Science-fiction has often tackled the notion that Mankind's technology is destined to rebel, as in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). However, unlike most entries to the genre, T2: Judgement Day takes the time to explore the idea. As in Kubrick's film, the fates of humans and machines become inescapably entwined: Man is no longer merely the designer (a la Dr. Frankenstein) who creates an artificial son, but one who must learn from his progeny. Accordingly, John Connor (Edward Furlong) and the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) share a father-son relationship that twists back on itself like a Moebius strip, each half teaching the other. In one haunting sequence, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) grimly contemplates the Terminator's unwavering loyalty towards John, and his ironic suitability as a father figure. This grotesque interlacing of familial roles speaks a clear message: if Judgement Day is to be averted, Man and Machine must coexist as equals, though human vanity may never allow it.
Throughout the film, Cameron weaves one astonishing action set-piece after another, utilising a seamless combination CGI and optical trickery. The T-1000 Terminator at first glance seems reasonably innocuous, but Robert Patrick brings something icily sinister to the role, a cold intelligence that isn't strictly mechanical but somehow filled with imagination. An equally fascinating character, I thought, was Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor, a complete reversal from the innocent Sarah Connor of the previous film. Now emotionally hardened by the prospect of nuclear holocaust, Sarah sees only ghosts where she once saw people, her apathy stemmed only by her maternal instincts towards John. In a haunting dream sequence, Sarah Connor is powerless to warn a younger version of herself (representative of society at large) of the coming dangers, her screams consumed by a nuclear blast that levels cities and engulfs her in flames. Hamilton's performance is bold and ferocious, perhaps cinema's most intense female action role (not coincidentally, James Cameron also provided us with the runner-up, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens).

Currently my #2 film of 1991:
1) The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme)
2) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron)
3) JFK (Oliver Stone)
4) Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (Fax Bahr, George Hickenlooper, Eleanor Coppola)
5) Barton Fink (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)