Archive for Clockwork Orange

Struck by Lightning

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , on March 9, 2014 by dcairns

bathurst

I’m late to the party again — Rudyard Kipling’s story Mrs Bathurst has attracted so much critical attention that it’s doubtful I can do anything to illuminate it further. The story is like life, which in turn is like Herve Villechaise — too short, and sometimes hard to understand.

This story starts off resembling a lot of Victorian short fiction — in a simple, undramatic situation, characters chat and this leads to the telling of a tale. While a ghost story of the era might take place in a gentleman’s club, Kipling makes his characters working class soldiers and they exchange a number of stories which lead them to the tale of a mutual acquaintance. In a variation on the usual approach, here two of the characters know part of the story — one knows the bulk of it — and a third can supply the ending, which ought to make for a satisfying account, allowing the people in the framing structure to partake of the same surprise and emotional reaction as the reader. But Kipling does something very strange: even with their information pooled, the characters lack vital parts of the story, and so the reader cannot make sense of it. Frustratingly, the characters in the story shrug this off, whereas the more the reader ponders the yarn, the more deeply mysterious it becomes.

This makes it a striking early example of a modernist text. But was this deliberate? Some have suggested that Kipling’s habit of pruning back his stories during re-writing may have gotten out of hand, and he shaved away too much exposition leaving us with an unsolvable conundrum. And apparently never realised it. Certainly, Kipling wasn’t infallible: in revising the story for republication, he inadvertently had one character refer to another by name before that name had been realistically introduced.

But the idea that Mrs B’s story got obfuscated by mistake is rendered implausible by the existence of a letter written by Kipling to a fan who had suggested their own explanation of the story. Kipling said that the explanation was ingenious, but that it was important to remember that a key conversation in his plot took place between two characters without witnesses, and only they knew of its contents. In other words, the story deliberately contains an element of the unknowable.

In the story’s key central section, a character nicknamed Click has a striking emotional response to the sight of a woman on the screen of a cinematograph. She is his ex-lover, and in the film she is apparently looking for him. Click’s companion, narrating the events, gives a description of the cinema that rivals Maxim Gorky’s famous “kingdom of shadows” letter (a favourite text around here).

We were in the front row, an’ “Home an’ Friends” came on early. Vickery touched me on the knee when the number went up. “If you see anything that strikes you,” he says, “drop me a hint”; then he went on clicking. We saw London Bridge an’ so forth an’ so on, an’ it was most interestin’. I’d never seen it before. You ’eard a little dynamo like buzzin’, but the pictures were the real thing—alive an’ movin’.’

‘I’ve seen ’em,’ said Hooper. ‘Of course they are taken from the very thing itself—you see.’

‘Then the Western Mail came in to Paddin’ton on the big magic-lantern sheet. First we saw the platform empty an’ the porters standin’ by. Then the engine come in, head on, an’ the women in the front row jumped: she headed so straight. Then the doors opened and the passengers came out and the porters got the luggage just like life. Only—only when any one came down too far towards us that was watchin’, they walked right out o’ the picture, so to speak. I was ’ighly interested, I can tell you. So were all of us. I watched an old man with a rug ’oo’d dropped a book an’ was tryin’ to pick it up, when quite slowly, from be’ind two porters—carryin’ a little reticule an’ lookin’ from side to side—comes out Mrs. Bathurst. There was no mistakin’ the walk in a hundred thousand. She come forward—right forward—she looked out straight at us with that blindish look which Pritch alluded to. She walked on and on till she melted out of the picture—like—like a shadow jumpin’ over a candle, an’ as she went I ’eard Dawson in the tickey seats be’ind sing out: “Christ! there’s Mrs. B.!”’

It’s good stuff — best to read it in a Victor McLaglan voice, I find.

Just like Gorky, Kipling’s narrator is most struck by something so natural to us now that we barely notice it. Of course, the silence of the cinema image and the lack of colour is a striking difference from nature, despite the lifelike motion, but the FRAME is the weirdest thing of all. People walk closer towards us, but then vanish out of shot. This happens in real life too, but with our own vision, if something we are interested in threatens to pass out of view, we are able to turn our head to follow it. So we’re not generally conscious of losing sight of things out of the edge of our vision (but a certain meditative kind drunkenness can make us aware of it). The film camera gives us a paralysed view of life, like that seen by the protagonist of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Alex DeLarge’s experience in A Clockwork Orange of being strapped into a seat with his eyelids clamped open is just an extreme version of the normal cinematic experience.

It’s not a particularly original interpretation, but I do think that Kipling is using the cinema as a clue to his storytelling approach in Mrs Bathurst. She seems to advance towards us and become ever clearer, but abruptly she vanishes. That which the camera did not happen to aim at goes unrecorded, and we will never know what happened there.

As Mr. Scorsese is always saying, cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s not in the frame.

If you guys all read the story at the link up top, we can debate what the heck it’s all about.

Image via The Chiseler, where Phoebe Green previously drew attention to this tale.
Traffics and Discoveries

Mr Smith Goes to Town

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on January 1, 2014 by dcairns

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THE TELEPHONE BOOK (1971) by Nelson Lyon Myers — this scene, near the opening, feels like it must have had an influence on CLOCKWORK ORANGE, right? Though the movies came out within a few months of each other. Still, I believe that if there were an influence, it was probably Lyon influencing Kubrick not the other way around, even though Kubes has a substantial filmography and Lyon has, basically, this one film.

Kubrick, through his contacts at Warners, probably got to see movies before they came out. And it’s interesting that his portrayal of the cat lady is a fairly substantial departure from Anthony Burgess’ source novel, which he’s otherwise fairly faithful to. In the book, the cat lady is a typical crazy cat lady. Making her run a health spa and have a large collection of erotic pop art was Kubrick’s idea. He also uses this to make her a shrill, middle-class lady and robs her of the pathos Burgess left her (which was never drawn attention to, you just felt it if you wanted to).

Also, Kubrick was kind of a phone freak (“Why should we spoil a perfectly good telephonic relationship by meeting?” he asked Boorman) and I think he’d have responded to the film’s creepy, impersonal brand of sex comedy.

Anyway, THE TELEPHONE BOOK is now available on a snazzy Blu-ray much more handsome than the ancient VHS rip I watched. Lyon has real cinematic flair and wit, and his sex farce is less obnoxious than comrade-in-arms and Kubrick connection Terry Southern’s. Although ditzy heroine Sarah Kennedy is constantly propositioned, obscene-phone-called or indecently exposed at, her innocence allows her to rise above it all. And she’s not stupid, just kind of space-y. And the movie doesn’t seem sadistic, it actually seems like it’s on her side.

(Kennedy receives the world’s greatest dirty phone call and spends the movie trying to track down the caller, one “John Smith”, convinced he’s the love of her life. Twisted, yes, but oddly good-natured. Misogyny is present, but it doesn’t seem imbued in the film, just floating around some of the characters, which is as close to realism as the film needs to get.)

Because it has a Warhol person (Ultra Violet) and is in b&w and has a sort of underground, Robert Downey counterculture vibe, it feels like a sixties film, until the naked ladies come on and then it’s, I guess you could say, timeless.

There’s also this, which is unmistakably Kubrickian, kind of the missing link between the droogs and that furry guy in THE SHINING ~

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The Telephone Book (Blu-ray + DVD Combo)

My Theory #2: Kubrick = Hammer

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2013 by dcairns

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Part Two of my Big Theory. Part One concerns the influence of Universal horror movies on Orson Welles. Part Two is the influence of Hammer Horror on Stanley Kubrick.

(Welles and Kubrick, two fans of the wide-angle lens, belong together because of Welles’ description of the young SK as “a giant” — later, Welles seems to fall silent on the subject of the Bronx genius, and as an arch-humanist it seems possible he went off Kubes’ work sometime after LOLITA…)

I’m not sure how this will hold up, but let’s assess the evidence. Firstly, casting –

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Kubrick’s first British-shot picture, LOLITA, features only one major player with Hammer associations, Marianne Stone (above), reaching a career high with her interpretation of Vivian Darkbloom (anagram of Vladimir Nabokov). Her involvement with Hammer films was off-and-on, and she also played in many British horror movies from other studios.

Hammer films before LOLITA: SPACEWAYS, THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, QUATERMASS II,

Non-genre Hammer films before LOLITA: HELL IS A CITY

Non-Hammer horror films: CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, JACK THE RIPPER, THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE.

Hammer films after LOLITA: PARANOIAC, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, HYSTERIA, COUNTESS DRACULA, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense. Non-Hammer horrors: WITCHCRAFT, DEVILS OF DARKNESS, THE NIGHT CALLER, CARRY ON SCREAMING, BERSERK, TWISTED NERVE, INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED, WHOEVER SLEW AUNTIE ROO?, TOWER OF EVIL, THE CREEPING FLESH, VAULT OF HORROR, CRAZE (one of many contenders for Freddie Francis’s worst film).

That’s not going to convince anybody that Stone’s Hammer work or horror movies was what brought her to Kubrick’s attention.

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But the scene where Humbert Humbert takes his wife and step-daughter to the drive-in to see CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN might make an impression on doubters. This is the only Kubrick film to feature Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

But DR STRANGELOVE doesn’t feature anybody with major Hammer credentials, except Shane Rimmer, whose Hammer work, major though it was, was all in the future. In 2001, we have William Sylvester, who had been in GORGO, DEVIL DOLL and DEVILS OF DARKNESS, but he’s plainly been cast because he’s an American in England. But Leonard Rossiter was in THE WITCHES.

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It’s with CLOCKWORK ORANGE that Kubrick embraces the trashier side of British culture. Most significantly, we see Alex (Malcolm McDowell) fantasizing about being Count Dracula, with long plastic fangs and red red kroovy dripping from his lips. This second overt Hammer reference clinches the Kubrick fascination for the Studio That Dripped Blood, and check the cast list –

I contend that Patrick Magee wasn’t cast for his Beckett experience, but for DEMENTIA 13, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE SKULL and DIE, MONSTER, DIE! admittedly not Hammer productions but generically bang-on. Also for his unparalleled ability to form himself into  a series of living Messerschmidt Heads, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, THE FIEND, ASYLUM, DEMONS OF THE MIND and — AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS were still to come — followed by BARRY LYNDON.

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Scottish actress Adrienne Corri had a long genre back catalogue, and her future would feature even more entries. To begin with we have DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (again), THE HELLFIRE CLUB, THE VIKING QUEEN and MOON ZERO TWO (both Hammer). Right after working for Kubrick, she made VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and later MADHOUSE. Despite Renoir’s THE RIVER, horror movies will probably always be what she’s known for (along with being stripped to her socks for Kubrick’s dubious delectation).

Aubrey “PR Deltoid” Morris made BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB the same year as CLOCKWORK ORANGE so we probably can’t count that. Dave Prowse had already done HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN and would soon shoot VAMPIRE CIRCUS and FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. And some space thing. Steven Berkoff had done THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS, KONGA and SLAVE GIRLS, and would return in BARRY LYNDON.

The girls: Katya Wyeth, from the film’s final shot, came fresh from TWINS OF EVIL and HANDS OF THE RIPPER (in the important role of 1st Pub Whore). Virginia Wetherell had done CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR and DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE. Shirley Jaffe was fresh from TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA. Vivienne Maya chalked up LUST FOR A VAMPIRE and TWINS OF EVIL — her best role is as the flashback girlfriend in A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE.

Of course, I admit the difficulty of casting a dolly-bird in 1971 who had NOT been in a Hammer horror or two. But now we come to BARRY LYNDON.

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The casting of Andre Morell strikes me as highly significant — Morell isn’t as tightly bound to Hammer in the public consciousness as Cushing and Lee, or Michael Ripper, but he should be. He was Quatermass on TV (an indirect link) and Watson to Cushing’s Holmes; THE SHADOW OF THE CAT, SHE, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, VENGEANCE OF SHE, and a number on non-horror Hammers including the terrific CASH ON DEMAND. Plus non-Hammer horrors like BEHEMOTH THE SEA MONSTER.

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Frank Middlemass had come from FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. Ferdy Mayne will be best remembered as Polanski’s Count Von Krolock, but also chalked up THE VAMPIRE LOVERS.

THE SHINING refers to Hammer only in its genre, but a comparison with THE EXORCIST is revealing, Kubrick having attempted to make a megablockbuster throughout his late career by patterning his films on the biggest box office smashes of history. But each of these films goes through the Kubrick funhouse looking-glass and emerges as something no sane person would expect to rake in the receipts — BARRY LYNDON purloins the child’s death from GONE WITH THE WIND, THE SHINING aims for THE EXORCIST and winds up in MARIENBAD country, and A.I. wants to be E.T. but can’t help its mechanical nature, like little Haley Joel Osment and the late Stankey K. himself.

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FULL METAL JACKET is too American and too young to borrow Hammer actors, and by the time of EYES WIDE SHUT most of them were dead. However, with its quasi-Satanic shagging party, the movie seems to be channeling sixties and seventies horrors, particularly Corman’s MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (and maybe CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR? And if there were a film called STENCH OF THE SCARLET PENCIL I’m sure that would have been an influence too).

Taking My Big Theory to its logical conclusion, we would have to say that Welles follows the path of Whale by telling moral tales in which nevertheless the truest, deepest sympathy is with the monsters; Kubrick follows the Sangster and Fisher route by portraying a world in which the oppressive patriarchy, though corrupt and inhuman, is the nearest thing to a safe side to be on…

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