“…And so farewell from your little droog. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lip-music brrrrrr.
And they can kiss my sharries. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal” (Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, 1962, p.131). Glazz (‘eye’)
It is important to note that A Clockwork Orange allowed members of the otherwise hyper-masculine and homophobic Skinhead subculture to dip the toes of their Doc Martens into the sequined water of the far more feminized glam rock style. For it was Alex DeLarge’s strikingly Biba-esque right eye that allowed the ultra-macho codpiece and bovver boots to be topped off by the femininely absurd, over-made-up lashes. All of this, of course, was very much of its time, as Robert Elms, in The Way We Wore – A Life in Threads (2005), reminds us that “as 1972 shaded into ’73 … Cabaret and A Clockwork Orange filled the screens with cinematic decadence” (p.93). In fact, it was on Arsenal’s Highbury terraces that this Skin/Glam mongrel, who wore Docs in a myriad of dayglo colours, with just a touch of mascara, was first spotted. This, for Robert Elms – when combined in this way – “was both threatening and alluring” (p.98). So, in this 1970s wasteland, rather than to be found lounging around nonchalantly in any form of make-believe milk-bar, Droog lookalikes, instead, could be spotted in the pubs and clubs and on the terraces: A bizarre parody, they were the result of the incongruous fusion of two seemingly oppositional dominant youth fashions of the time: glam rock (the preserve of camp-yet-heterosexual ‘brickies in mascara’), and the Skinhead (the bald-headed, working-class prol). Yet, according to Catterall and Wells, “[i]f Alex’s false eyelash looked like a nod to Glam, his uniform was out and out Skins” (p.114).
A Clockwork Orange is often debated and analysed in conjunction with the erratic career of the actor Malcolm McDowell, who has, across the decades since the film’s release, come to exemplify both the style and demeanor of Alex DeLarge to such an extent that, to many, the angelic-faced McDowell is the very personification of Burgess’s dysfunctional, boyish protagonist. As the following is how the Lads’ mag Loaded captioned a double-page photospread (entitled ‘Ultra Violence’, March 1995) of the DeLarge/McDowell still, where he is on his knees, masked, and sneering into the camera, whilst, all-the-while, his fellow Droogs have already began to sexually assault a female victim: “Think nightmare. Think droog. Think Alex in A Clockwork Orange, winky-wink eyelashes and frozen blue eyes. Think Malcolm McDowell with a bowler hat on his head and a serpent’s smile on his choirboy’s face. Think icon” (p.19). Thus, to the beered-up readers of Loaded, DeLarge and McDowell are not only inseparable, but a pivotal element of blokish popular culture. Furthermore, McDowell insisted that as well as being eulogised for playing the role of DeLarge in a manner in which both casual sex and casual violence was chillingly acted out, his attempts to bring Burgess’s murderous gang leader to the big screen often borrowed from the humour of the stars of prime-time TV. For, in Michael Bracewell’s The Nineties – When Surface Was Depth (2002), McDowell admitted that “A Clockwork Orange was essentially a comic performance”, as “I used to loot my style from Eric Morecambe” (p.257). Meanwhile, the Guardian’s Suzie Mackenzie made explicit the Laddish appeal of McDowell as DeLarge, arguing that McDowell’s convincing portrayal of such a juvenile delinquent “had provided a new kind of hero for our times”, who “was as unforgettable as he was unlikeable” (the 24th of April, 2004, p.21).
So, by the mid-Noughties, both Anthony Burgess’s novelistic warning about the youth of the near-future, and Stanley Kubrick’s highly individualistic take on that warning, had become intertwined amid a wider postmodern pop culture. Perhaps almost totally lacking in shock value today, all the result of both the novella and the film being overshadowed by on- and off-screen violence that has managed to exceed anything that even the author and/or the director could conjure up, A Clockwork Orange is now a retro-futuristic artifact that manifests itself over and over amid pop culture. And it had achieved this amid the wider context of the global triumph of the United Kingdom’s subcultural heritage, as A Clockwork Orange has now been provided such a stature within a post-Millennium, nostalgia-obsessed Britain, that can’t stop itself looking back over its shoulders for cultural reference points. For example, Richard Jobson’s stark semi-autobiographical cinematic portrayal of the three stages of a young man’s life – 16 years of Alcohol (2003, which, significantly, as part of its Region 1 DVD release, included the tagline ‘Trainspotting meets A Clockwork Orange’ on its cover) – makes obvious the importance of the viciousness of slum life during the protagonist’s teenage years, as he leads a Skinhead gang in Edinburgh during the late 1960s and early 1970s. More importantly, the sleeve of the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack LP is made fleetingly visible in the scene that takes place in a record shop, and even the opening moments of the film – displaying the pissed, skanking group of four Skinheads as harshly lit silhouettes that dominate the entrance to some concrete, inner-city tunnel – is not only a tip of a bowler hat to the importance of A Clockwork Orange to the Skinheads’ subcultural identity, but a blatant attempt to replicate Kubrick’s infamous set piece introduction. Furthermore, in May 2005, Scootering magazine had as its cover star the bright orange ‘Clockwork Cutdown’, a customized scooter that was plastered all over with murals depicting Alex DeLarge in stills from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. Meanwhile, in July of the same year, Detour Records – a well-respected, online record label providing ‘music for the scooter scene’ – released the 7” single by the Pork Dukes, ‘Pop Stars’, with a sleeve that not only mirrored the original promo poster for A Clockwork Orange, but switched the blade-wielding McDowell/DeLarge for a similar ‘tooled-up’, bowler hat-wearing pig. Then, in August 2005, Stella Artois ran a two-page ad amid a whole host of monthly magazines, that consisted of familiar scenes from many famous films all set within an overcast ‘middle-England’ town, where – just across from the local pub and a red phone booth – it depicted a gang of Droogs slurping milk outside a sleepy Korova milk bar. Such a safe neutering of A Clockwork Orange to the banal of the everyday, only serves to emphasise that the shock of the novella – and, perhaps more importantly, the schlock of the film – were stirred into a mussy, kitsch slurry, whereby its Bootboy kick was now reduced to that of capitalist parody. For, A Clockwork Orange no longer scared, as it was now being used to just ‘sell, sell, sell’.Smot (‘to look’)
However, 10 years on from these examples of how A Clockwork Orange had managed to embed itself within the psyche of the pop culture of the time, its relevance has still to diminish. In fact, in many ways – with, in recent years, the dominance of Social Media – it has increased. Indeed, when I caught up with The Moment on ZANI-related business a short while ago (see my ‘Is the Only Truth Really Music? Unwrapping the Moment’, Parts One and Two), I asked their frontman – Adrian Holder – about their recent borrowing of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange amid their self-promotion.PJ: With a recent advertisment on Facebook, promoting the band's new album (‘The Only Truth Is Music’ – and, in particular, the track 'Captain Insanity', with its lines 'When they come knocking at your door / You don't know anything for sure') showing a scowling Alex DeLarge, what message are you attempting to send out to your audience? AH:
If my memory is correct, the film was censored soon after its release and withdrawn from distribution by the director. I'm not sure how, but – as a kid growing up in the 1970s – on one of those nights when I was left alone in the house to watch as much late night television as I could take, the film was broadcast. I loved it. The language, the imagery and cinematography were all very different from what I had been watching during my normal (supervised) viewing hours. It was a kind of ‘film theatre’ where unreal things happened in a psychedelic madness. It seemed to me to be about ‘bad boy rebellion’ with Alex and the gang targeting the establishment with some ‘shocking’ ultra-violence. However, (fuck you Mr Grove!) perhaps the worst violence was the revenge ‘treatment'’ handed down by the establishment on Alex at the end of the film. So, I used the image to represent the ‘Captain Insanity’ referred to in the song. Our Captain suffered a punishment far worse than his crime. PJ: During the band's spate of live dates last year, you promoted your ‘Live at Leeds’ gig, on the 24th of July , with a blindingly white poster that had a beckoning, welcoming Alex as a central image. Considering, in the film, he was about to both ‘help’ and maim a fellow Droog, what was behind your decision to appropriate this image? AH:
It’s a very powerful image. The film has come to represent so much to so many people. The danger, the excitement, and – most importantly – the controversy. The authorities, in their infinite wisdom – in attempting to suppress it – have helped ensure the film’s popularity and longevity. It is art. And, furthermore, I am very happy for The Moment to be associated with art that questions authority. For, authority should be made to continually explain and justify itself. PJ: Over the past year or two, you’ve promoted The Moment’s music with visuals that mix 60s chic femininity with A Clockwork Orange ultra-masculinity. How does this all fit with both the style and mindset of the band and your audience? AH:
The Moment’s audience is, and always has been, predominately male. In fact, the music and image of the band appears to appeal mostly to guys. As Ed Ball of The Times [‘Clockwork obsessives’ in their own right] once said to me, “You are not the most good looking of frontmen, but blokes want to be like you'”. I thought it was an interesting observation (but, at the time, I would have swapped the ‘guys want to be’' bit for being a little more good looking!). So, we use images that we hope will get the attention of our audience, as pictures of me simply wouldn’t do the job! Thus, in the days of social media scrolling, we use images of cool-looking people in the hope that our post will be pause-worthy.Ookadeet (‘to leave’)
So, in the age of the Internet, Facebook, scrolling, and the like, Alex DeLarge is very much that pause-worthy pop culture icon. As, for some, A Clockwork Orange has proved to be a cult classic that encapsulates all that is right, and all that is wrong, with today’s violent society. From the Rolling Stones to the Inter-City Firm, for Skins and Punks, through Rave, New Lads, Chavs, and beyond, Burgess’s/Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, according to Bradshaw, “has been a spectral, residual influence … on our collective unconscious”, with Malcom McDowell’s personification of Alex DeLarge providing generations of youth and youth subcultures with a highly subversive style icon. For, vitally, as Andrew Biswell reminds us in The Real Life of Anthony Burgess (2005), another inspiration behind the novella was Burgess’s witnessing of the hooligan behaviour of immaculately dressed, hyper-violent Russian youths. Yet, rather than grounding A Clockwork Orange in the Eastern Bloc or the East End of London, Burgess – in his insistence on it being a place-less, always-near-future dystopia – provided it with an international dimension: “The important point is that Alex’s story might happen anywhere. The ambiguous setting allows Burgess to present teenage aggression as a universal phenomenon” (p.242).
So, A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess’s novella, and Stanley Kubrick’s big-screen version – is, most probably, a blokish pop cultural artifact of the 1960s and 1970s, for the Lad of the new Millennium. And some – mainly Devotchkas, or ‘girls’ – may, quite rightly, have a problem with all of this. Finally, when asking the age-old question of youth, ‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’, we should forever be aware that A Clockwork Orange is always going to be anytime, anyplace, but always all-too near us… So, ‘Viddy well, little brother, viddy well!’.
Part One Here